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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 9, 2002 - Issue 54


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Tsosie to get Medal!!!!

Editor's note: We, at Canku Ota, are delighted with this news and want to thank Jim Snyder for sharing it with all of us.
BLOOMFIELD - U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., apologized on behalf of the U.S. Marine Corps to Navajo Code Talker David Tsosie, 79, in a phone call Friday from his Washington office. Bingaman told Tsosie, who listened on a speaker phone at his Bloomfield nursing home, that he would be getting the Congressional Code Talker Silver Medal.

"I apologize in their behalf for the confusion and the mistake caused by record keeping. Congratulations," Bingaman said, adding he looked forward to meeting Tsosie.

The Marine Corps verified Friday that Tsosie graduated from Navajo Code Talker School on Sept. 7, 1943, and was entitled to the award, Bingaman spokeswoman Jude McCartin said.

Tsosie's caretakers, Dawn Callen, Priscilla Tucker, Sandra Sam and fellow Code Talker and lifelong friend Wilfred Billey, 78, of Farmington clapped and cheered when they heard the news.

"She (Tucker) screamed, and I cried," Callen said, about getting the news.

The phone call caught Tsosie completely by surprise. "I wasn't expecting it. It surprised me who it was."

The announcement ended a 75-day battle by numerous individuals, including state Rep. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock, state Sen. John Pinto, D-Tohatchi, state Sen. Leonard Tsosie, D-Crownpoint, who is no relation, Bingaman and U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., to get Tsosie recognized as a Code Talker.

"It makes me proud that I've been recognized for what I did for the Navajo people and people of the United States," Tsosie said. He thanked Bingaman and told him he was proud to have served.

Bingaman's announcement came just three days after New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and the state Legislature officially recognized Tsosie as a U.S. Marine Code Talker in the South Pacific during World War II.

The wheelchair-bound Tsosie went to the Roundhouse in Sante Fe Tuesday where he received certificates on the Senate floor signed by Pinto, Tsosie, Senate President Richard Romero and Senate Clerk Margaret Larragiote thanking him for his service.

He also received a certificate from Johnson and Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron. Navajo Nation President Kelsey Begaye greeted Tsosie.

Tsosie had been invited by the Navajo Nation Department of Veteran Affairs in October 2001 to receive his silver medal along with 225 other Code Talkers Nov. 24 in Window Rock, Ariz. Tsosie was then uninvited by the Navajo Nation in a Nov. 19 letter, which cited the Marine Corps inability confirm he had been a Code Talker. Callen called this "an act of abuse," considering Tsosie's age and his service to his country.

Shortly after the ceremony, which Tsosie did not attend, he looked down in his wheelchair and said, "I don't care anymore."

However, since November Tsosie has received cards and letters from across the country, and has been honored at various local events. "Now I'm pretty well-known ... a VIP," Tsosie said smiling after Bingaman's call.

Tsosie, who said he was nicknamed "David, the Jap killer," was hit in the leg and hip by mortar shell fragments during the World War II battle for Saipan. "I saw some terrible things there," he said recently. Marines called the island "Death Valley," referring to the high number of United States and Japanese casualties.

He was carried down to the beach and eventually taken to a Naval hospital in Pearl Harbor to recover. He later received the Purple Heart.

Bingaman wrote the original legislation in 2000 to get the Code Talkers honored with congressional medals. His bill was sponsored by Udall in the House of Representatives.

The five surviving original Code Talkers were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal,

"I applaud the Pentagon and the Marine Corps for taking a closer look at their records, and coming up with information that provides what we suspected all along - that Mr. Tsosie is very much worthy of a Congressional Silver Medal," Bingaman said.

Udall added, "I am gratified that David Tsosie, a Navajo Code Talker who served this nation with honor, will be presented with the medal he earned so long ago. It's very important we pay tribute to the accomplishments of those veterans."

A Navajo inscription, written by Billey, on the gold and silver medals reads: "Din Bizaad Yee Atah Naag Yik'ah Deesdlii." It translates to "the Navajo coded language assisted the military forces to defeat the enemy."

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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