World War II Navajo Code Talker George Smith Dies

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly used his Facebook page to announce the Tuesday passing of 90-year-old code talker George Smith.

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A group of Navajo Code Talkers attends the 2011 Citi Military Appreciation Day event to honor U.S. veterans and current service members at Citi Pond in Bryant Park on November 11, 2011 in New York City.

A Navajo Code Talker who participated in U.S. efforts to outwit Japan in World War II has died, CNN reported. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly used his Facebook page to announce the Tuesday passing of George Smith at the age of 90. Shelly said the Navajo Nation’s flag will fly at half-staff until Nov. 4 to honor Smith’s life.

“This news has saddened me,” Shelly wrote in his Wednesday Facebook post. “Our Navajo code talkers have been real life heroes to generations of Navajo people.”

Hundreds of Navajo assisted in U.S. Marine missions in the Pacific between 1942 and 1945, CNN noted, and only a few are still alive today. Navajo Code Talkers used their unique indigenous languages to construct communications systems that were indecipherable to enemy forces. The codes, which were based on complicated Navajo dialects that typically had no written form, relayed critical information during Iwo im and other important battles in the Pacific theater. Navajo communications comprised the only code the Japanese were never able to figure out, according to CNN.

(MORE: A Navajo Code Talker…Speaks, So We Can Understand, At Last)

The Navajo code was classified as a military secret until 1968.

“They have brought pride to our Navajo people in so many ways,” Shelly wrote about the Code Talkers. “The nation’s prayers and thoughts are with the family at this time as they mourn the passing of a great family man who served his country and protected his people.”

According to an October 31 press release from the Navajo Nation, Smith was born on June 15, 1922 in Mariano Lake, New Mexico. After earning his diesel mechanic credentials in Chicago, Smith enlisted with the U.S. marines in 1943 to be trained as a Code Talker. The press release said Smith earned the rank of Corporal while serving in the Pacific Theater during World War II. His military service included stints in Okinawa, Hawaii and Japan, and he fought in battles at Siapin, Tinian and Ryukyu Islands.

After serving as a Code Talker, Smith held jobs as a destroyer of old ammunition, a mechanic and a shop foreman, the release noted.

“Code Talker Smith led an honorable life. He served his country, then provided for his family,” Shelly said in the press release.

Smith is survived by siblings and children, as well as by more than 20 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren.

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Each day, I’m learning more and more about people of different walks of life – and of different ethnic backgrounds – having made a difference during World War II, all representing America. The story of Mr. George Smith highlights the strategic importance he played for winning the war. Recently, I watched “The War,” a seven-episode program by Ken Burns on DVD. (It originally aired a decade ago on PBS.) I was born and raised in post-WWII Japan. During the war, for the victor to show mercy to the vanquished was a foreign concept to the Japanese military. Consequently, when Japan surrendered unconditionally, all surviving Japanese feared the worst. This, however, did not happen. Instead, American soldiers brought food and treated the general public with compassion. This was a turning point in the Japanese perception of the so-called “enemy.” They became witness to an amazing grace beyond the realm of their comprehension. This is the reason people of my parents’ generation hold America to the highest pedestal – as I still do today as a naturalized U.S. citizen. My 2-minute video message of gratitude on YouTube at was created for WWII veterans, such as Mr. Smith. I regret that this video comes too late for Mr. Smith. I would appreciate it very much if you would please watch and share the video with his family and all other veterans and/or their families that you know. Thank you.