The diminishing ranks of indigenous code talkers who helped the U.S. and Allies win World War II have decreased by one more with the death of Fleming Begaye Sr., who died on Friday.
He was 97.
Born Aug. 26, 1921, Begaye was Tódích'íi'nii (Bitter Water Clan) and born for Kinlichii'nii (Red House People Clan) in the community of Red Valley, Arizona, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer said in a Facebook announcement.
He lived in Chinle, Arizona.
“The Navajo Nation has lost another brave and selfless Diné warrior, who sacrificed more than we'll ever know to defend our country,” Nez said. “We offer our heartfelt appreciation to the family for sharing his life with us. May the Creator bless you and your family with strength and comfort.”
He was among 400 or so Navajo warriors who served over the course of World War II, according to the National Museum of the American Indian.
“The Navajo Code Talkers participated in all assaults the U.S. Marines led in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945, including Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu and Iwo Jima,” The Arizona Republic recounted last July. “The Code Talkers conveyed messages by telephone and radio in their native language, a code that was never broken by the Japanese.”
n this Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump meets with Navajo Code Talkers, Fleming Begaye Sr., seated and Thomas Begay, center, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. World War II-era Navajo Code Talker Fleming Begaye, Sr., passed away on Friday, May 10, 2019.
(Associated Press/Susan Walsh)
Begay served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1943 to 1945, fighting in the Battle of Tarawa and the Batter of Tinian. He spent a year in a naval hospital recovering from war wounds, the statement said.
“Code Talker Begaye was a warrior, a family man, and a business man. In every aspect of his life, he was a loving person who cared greatly for his people,” said Lizer. “Today, I ask our Diné people to keep his spirit and his family in your prayers as we give thanks for his life and his legacy.”
After the war he returned to the Navajo Nation and operated Begaye's Corner, a trading post in Chinle. He was pre-deceased by his wife, Helen M. Begaye, who walked on in 2008, and two of his three children.
“Every decision I made, I really had to run it by him because he always gave the best advice,” his granddaughter, Theodosia Ott, told The Arizona Republic. “He was always a person that would give you the last penny he had in his pocket.”
Funeral services are scheduled for May 17, The Arizona Republic reported.
Begaye and the other Code Talkers were forbidden from talking about their World War II experience until the program was declassified in 1968, The Arizona Republic noted.
He and two other Code Talkers were honored at the White House by President Trump in 2017.
“Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to the Navajo Code Talkers, whose bravery, skill & tenacity helped secure our decisive victory over tyranny & oppression during WWII,” Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, tweeted at the time, according to the Associated Press.
Begaye told his granddaughter he would not have changed his service.
“There was no other choice,” Ott said her grandfather told her, according to The Arizona Republic. “We had to make sure that everyone in the U.S. was safe.”
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