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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 a Code Talker

SANTA FE - The state of New Mexico has officially recognized David W. Tsosie, 79, of Bloomfield, as a U.S. Marine Navajo Code Talker during a ceremony Tuesday on the Senate floor.

Tsosie received a decorated certificate signed by Gov. Gary Johnson and Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron. He also received a certificate from the New Mexico State Legislature, signed by Senate President Richard Romero and Sen. John Pinto, Sen. Leonard Tsosie - who is no relation - and senate clerk Margaret Larragiote. The state House of Representatives is also working on getting a certificate for Tsosie.

Tsosie was invited to the Capitol by Pinto and Tsosie, who wrote "the Senate would like ... to acknowledge your contribution to the success of our country during World War II as a radio operator and a graduate of the Code Talker School at Camp Elliot and Camp Pendleton."

He was recognized during American Indian Day activities at the Capitol. In addition to meeting Johnson, Tsosie was greeted by Navajo Nation President Kelsey Begaye.

However, neither the U.S. Marine Corps nor the Department of Defense has yet to respond with an answer on Tsosie's Code Talker status to either Sen. Jeff Bingaman's, D-N.M. or Rep. Tom Udall's D-N.M. office in Washington.

"We are currently waiting for the Department of Defense to respond to Sen. Bingaman's request," said Bingaman spokeswoman Jude McCartin, Wednesday, in Washington. "Under the circumstances, because we are fighting a war, we have not heard from the Department of Defense. That's understandable."

Bingaman and Udall's offices have both provided documentation to the Marine Corps award division office in Washington showing Tsosie was a Code Talker. That documentation includes a Code Talker school graduation photo from 1943 with Tsosie pictured. Local Code Talkers from Shiprock and Farmington have repeatedly stated Tsosie was in Code Talker school with them.

"Bingaman and Udall's office are working together to get the Congressional Silver Medal from the Marine Corps (for Tsosie)," said local Udall spokesman Pete Valencia, Wednesday, in Farmington. "We haven't heard anything yet. The Marines are working on it. We're working on it from both the House and Senate side," Valencia added. "We were hoping to get his silver medal (to Tsosie) before the Sante Fe presentation. It's going to take time."

Tsosie's story began when he was denied a Congressional Navajo Code Talker Silver Medal just five days before the Nov. 24 ceremony in Window Rock, Ariz. More than 225 Code Talkers received Silver Medals at the ceremony, although there were nearly 400 Navajo Code Talkers during World War II.

The Navajo Nation Department of Veteran Affairs, which had invited Tsosie to receive his medal a month before the ceremony, uninvited him Thanksgiving week, citing the U.S. Marines could not verify he had been a Code Talker.

"We will take this all the way to Washington, D.C.," Priscilla Tucker, a caretaker for Tsosie, said Wednesday. "We are his family. We will fight this."

Bloomfield Nursing and Rehabilitation Center director Dawn Callen said about the Congressional effort to get Tsosie his medal, "concern is one thing, taking care of it is another. What happened to David is not fair. They (the Code Talkers) helped us win that war. He's a Purple Heart awardee. They have fought for our freedom."

Callen and Tucker have said they will not rest until Tsosie gets his medal. "We've heard nothing back from this. There are people running for re-election this year. People vote," Callen added, saying the issue is a real sore spot for her.

Tsosie appeared in good spirits Wednesday after returning from Santa Fe. This contrasted with a remark he made shortly after the November ceremony, when he bent his head down in his wheelchair and said, "I don't care anymore."

His certificate from the Senate read in part: "Tsosie was injured by a mortar shell while transmitting a message in the battle of Saipan, in which there were 24,000 American casualties, for which he received the Purple Heart."

"It was an experience for me (being honored at the Capitol), it never happened before," a smiling Tsosie said Wednesday.

Tsosie's story appeared in newspapers across the country and on the Native American news Web sites. He has received letters and cards from as far as Alaska, Kentucky and Canada. E-mails supporting Tsosie from Native Americans in California, Oregon and Washington, were received by The Daily Times.

"I've got one (card) from Alaska. I don't know who I met up there," Tsosie said. "Other tribes - I didn't know they cared about me."

Tsosie then talked about, not himself, but a Hopi Indian, one of the Marines photographed raising the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima, who had died.

His stories also attracted the attention of Jasper Joe, of Cove, Ariz., who said his family was related to Tsosie and didn't know it. Joe said his son always asked him why he didn't have a grandfather. Now the family has been reunited with Tsosie, Joe said, and his son has a new grandfather.

Joe's son presented Tsosie with a gold medal he had won in school in December at an event at the Farmington Civic Center.

A fifth-grade class from Weitzer Elementary School in Flagstaff, Ariz., also sent Tsosie handmade cards and letters. "I am so very sorry you did not get your award. I wish you had. I still have hope for you to get it," one card read. Another read, "I think you should get your silver medal because you risked your life for people's freedom."

One student named Britta wrote, "just because they couldn't prove you were a Code Talker, I still think you should get it anyway. They should believe you ... for saving American lives."

Read the original story about Mr. Tsosie at:

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