learning about the Navajo Code Talkers in their history books, eight-graders
from Ch'ooshgai Community School asked to meet one.
Their wish was granted Aug. 13 when Principal Lester Hudson
invited Navajo Code Talker Samuel Tso to the school for a special
Not knowing what to expect, Tso made the trip to Ch'ooshgai
only to find out the students were honoring him for his efforts
during World War II.
The visit, which was organized by the students and their teacher,
Jennifer Villareal, is in response to their curiosity of how the
Navajo language was used to help American forces defeat the Japanese.
Villareal, who is originally from the Philippines, said the
idea for recognizing the Navajo Code Talkers came after finding
out her students knew very little about the role of these revered
men and the codes they created with the Navajo language.
"Their language defines freedom and victory," Villareal
said. "They should be loud and proud."
Understanding that language connects culture and tradition,
Villareal was motivated to help her students understand their rich
She assigned them the task to research the code talkers, and
from their findings, the students became aware of the famous role
these young men played in American history.
Villareal said her students felt something needed to be done
to honor their new heroes, few of whom still survive, and so the
celebration in honor of Tso was organized.
Tso and fellow Code Talker Keith Little's surprise visit could
not have come at a better time, as it's rare that the actual players
in an historically important time are available to teach its lessons
to their heirs.
In front of the entire student body, Tso stood up and provided
a synopsis of his war history - he served in the U.S. Marine Corps
from 1943 to 1946.
Tso, who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima and at Nagasaki, explained
the crucial role of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers.
"The first 29 developed the code that the Japanese could
not break," Tso said. "When I say they cannot break it,
it means they didn't know where our airplanes were, our ships were,
our men were."
The codes that were developed, he said, depended heavily on
the Navajo names of animals.
"We used these three types of animals for codes,"
Tso said, explaining that the word "Tsidii" (bird), for
example, was code for "airplane."
Because Navajo had no written form at that time, Tso said memorizing
the code was vital.
Much like Tso's message, Little reminded the young Navajos of
the importance of learning their mother tongue.
"It's really up to you young people to learn our language,"
Little said, adding that the Navajo language could possibly be useful
in future wars. "I found out it was very sacred, our language."
In addition to giving Tso and Little the floor, the students
wrote letters thanking Tso for his military service and read a poem
they wrote honoring the Navajo Code Talkers.
Beenilniih (Remember It)
The smell of smoke
The screams of fright
The price you paid
To keep us safe at night
The fights you fought
The history you made
Our Navajo ways
Are very sacred these days
The language you spoke
It will never fade
The unbreakable code gave us peace
For that take our thanks, please
We shall follow your lead
In doing good deeds
The language we cherish that comes from above
We will always love
So bury your sorrows
Remember your ways
From then and tomorrow
Forever and always ...
After reading their poem, the Ch'ooshgai students handed Tso
their thank-you letters and robed him with a Pendleton blanket,
and then pelted him with questions.
Eighth-grader Chamique Duboise asked, "What advice or message
can you give to the younger generation?"
"Don't drop out of school," Tso replied. "Get
a job or go to school."
"Were you afraid of being killed?" asked another student.
"Yes," Tso said. "I was afraid day and night.
One night before Mount Suribachi was secured, I had a dream about
a young Indian girl who came to me and gave me a cedar bead, and
she said, 'You will come back to us.' I believed that dream day
Tso said he told his comrades of his dream and said he was going
"I pulled out my cedar beads and they told me, 'That's
a lot of horseshit,'" Tso said, adding, "Whether that's
the case, it brought me home."
The students responded with loud cheers and applause.
Students from the Navajo language and culture class also performed
a traditional Navajo ribbon dance and Ye'ii Bicheii dance to honor
the two code talkers.
Asked how he felt about being honored by the students, Tso said
the tribute made him realize how much he's appreciated as a code
talker, making him feel worthwhile and alive on Mother Earth.
"I hope they will not forget this," Villareal said
at the conclusion of the event, adding that the celebration marked
a special day in the school's history. "Language identifies
who you are."