Last of original group of Navajo Code Talkers dies

FILE - This Nov. 29, 2009, file photo, shows Chester Nez talking about his time as a Navajo Code Talker in World War II at his home in Albuquerque, N.M. Nez, the last of the 29 Navajos who developed an unbreakable code that helped win World War II, died Wednesday morning, June 4, 2014, of kidney failure at his home in Albuquerque. He was 93. (AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca, File)
FILE – This Nov. 29, 2009, file photo, shows Chester Nez talking about his time as a Navajo Code Talker in World War II at his home in Albuquerque, N.M. Nez, the last of the 29 Navajos who developed an unbreakable code that helped win World War II, died Wednesday morning, June 4, 2014, of kidney failure at his home in Albuquerque. He was 93. (AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca, File)


FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The language he once was punished for speaking in school became Chester Nez’s primary weapon in World War II.

Before hundreds of men from the Navajo Nation became Code Talkers, Nez and 28 others were recruited to develop a code based on the then-unwritten Navajo language. Locked in a room for 13 weeks, they came up with an initial glossary of more than 200 terms using Navajo words for red soil, war chief, braided hair and hummingbird, for example, and an alphabet.

Nez never tired of telling the story to highlight his pride in having served his country and stress the importance of preserving the Navajo language. The 93-year-old died Wednesday morning of kidney failure with plenty of appearances still scheduled, said Judith Avila, who helped Nez publish his memoirs. He was the last of the original group of 29 Navajo Code Talkers.

“It’s one of the greatest parts of history that we used our own native language during World War II,” Nez told The Associated Press in 2009. “We’re very proud of it.”

Navajo President Ben Shelly ordered flags lowered across the reservation in honor of Nez from sunrise Thursday to sunset Sunday.

Nez was in 10th grade when he lied about his age to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps not knowing he would become part of an elite group of Code Talkers. He wondered whether the code would work since the Japanese were skilled code breakers.

Few non-Navajos spoke the Navajo language, and even those who did couldn’t decipher the code. It proved impenetrable. The Navajos trained in radio communications were walking copies of it. Each message read aloud by a Code Talker immediately was destroyed.

“The Japanese did everything in their power to break the code but they never did,” Nez said in the AP interview.

Nez grew up speaking only Navajo in Two Wells, New Mexico, on the eastern side of the Navajo Nation. He gained English as a second language while attending boarding school, where he had his mouth washed out with soap for speaking Navajo.

When a Marine recruiter came looking for young Navajos who were fluent in Navajo and English to serve in World War II, Nez said he told his roommate “let’s try it out.” The dress uniforms caught his attention, too.

“They were so pretty,” Nez said.

About 250 Navajos showed up at Fort Defiance, then a U.S. Army base. But only 29 were selected to join the first all-Native American unit of Marines. They were inducted in May 1942 and became the 382nd Platoon tasked with developing the code. At the time, Navajos weren’t even allowed to vote.

After World War II, Nez volunteered to serve two more years during the Korean War. He retired in 1974 after a 25-year career as a painter at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Albuquerque. His artwork featuring 12 Navajo holy people was on display at the hospital.

For years, Nez’s family and friends knew only that he fought the Japanese during World War II.

Nez was eager to tell his family more about his role as a Code Talker, Avila said, but he couldn’t. Their mission wasn’t declassified until 1968.

The accolades came much later. The original group received Congressional Gold Medals in 2001 and Nez often joked about pawning his. He measured the accuracy of the movie “Windtalkers,” based on the Code Talkers that came out the following year, at 78 percent and said the Navajo spoken by Adam Beach was hard to understand but “he tried his best.”

Code Talkers have appeared on television and at parades and they are routinely asked to speak to veterans groups and students. They are celebrated on the Navajo Nation with a tribal holiday.

Nez threw the opening pitch at a 2004 Major League Baseball game and offered a blessing for the presidential campaign of John Kerry. In 2012, he received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas, where he abandoned his studies in fine arts decades ago after tuition assistance he received for his military service ran out.

U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, of New Mexico, praised Nez for his bravery and service to the United States in a statement Wednesday. The Code Talkers took part in every assault the Marines conducted in the Pacific, sending thousands of messages without error on Japanese troop movements and battlefield tactics.

Once while running a message, Nez and his partner were mistaken for Japanese soldiers and were threatened at gunpoint until a Marine lieutenant cleared up the confusion. He was forbidden from saying he was a Code Talker.

“He loved his culture and his country, and when called, he fought to protect both,” Udall said. “And because of his service, we enjoy freedoms that have stood the test of time.”

Despite having both legs partially amputated, confining him to a wheelchair, Avila said the humble Nez loved to travel and tell his story.

“It really was a good thing, such a good experience for him,” she said. “He said he would do it over again if his country needed him.”

A public viewing is scheduled Monday evening in Albuquerque. A Mass is scheduled Tuesday in Albuquerque, with burial to follow at the Santa Fe National Cemetery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

AZ lawmaker: Designate highways to honor Native American vets

Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Cameron, wants to add designations to four northern Arizona highways honoring Native American veterans. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Arianna Grainey)
Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Cameron, wants to add designations to four northern Arizona highways honoring Native American veterans. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Arianna Grainey)

Arizona, Navajo Nation, highways, Jamescita Peshlakai, U.S.89, U.S.160, SR264, I-40

By: Jordan Young, Cronkite News Service March 27, 2014

As a member of the Navajo Nation and an Army veteran, a state representative says Arizona needs to do more to honor Native Americans who have served and sacrificed for their country.

Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Cameron, said one way to start would be adopting new names honoring Native American veterans for portions of highways that pass through Navajo and Hopi land in northeastern Arizona. They are U.S. 89, U.S. 160, State Route 264 and Interstate 40.

She said the designations would help connect tribes and the rest of the state.

“It really creates a live, real awareness of people that travel those roads when they’re there immediately,” she said. “It’s not just in a textbook, it’s just not a number, 89, 160, 264. It’s not just a number, it becomes a real life place. It becomes what it is, which is Native American country.”

She introduced four memorials this year that would urge the Arizona Department of Transportation to make these changes: for U.S. 89, Native American Veterans Highway; for U.S. 160, Native American Women Veterans Highway; for State Route 264, Native American Code Talker Highway; and for I-40, Navajo Code Talker Trail.

While the measures weren’t heard in committee, Peshlakai said she will urge U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, to work in Congress to have I-40 between the New Mexico state line and Flagstaff designated as Navajo Code Talker Trail.

Jennifer Johnson, communications director for Kirkpatrick, said that while she couldn’t comment on Peshlakai’s proposal to the state Legislature the congresswoman supports efforts to honor Native American veterans.

“Native Americans have served our country in a higher proportion than any other group. So there’s more Native Americans, percentage-wise, than any other group or subset that you could slice out,” Johnson said.

In 2003, Gov. Janet Napolitano signed legislation to designate I-40 through Arizona as Purple Heart Trail. Peshlakai said doesn’t intend to appear disrespectful to that designation by taking the issue to Kirkpatrick.

“It might just be a small strip between Winslow and Flagstaff, but I just don’t know. I would have to really talk with her,” Peshlakai said.

Terry Hill, a retired Army command sergeant major who serves as committeeman for the Show Low-based White Mountain Area Veterans of Foreign Wars, said that while he would love to see Native American veterans honored he wouldn’t want the designation Purple Heart Trail removed from any stretch of I-40.

“Somebody would have to really talk to me and give me a good argument for the VFW to support it,” he said.

Hill said designating part of the road as both Navajo Code Talker Trail and Purple Heart Trail might be acceptable.

In a statement shared by a spokesman, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly noted that New Mexico’s Route 264 is already called Navajo Code Talker Highway.

“I do support all veterans, men and women because I have veterans in my family,” he said.

Rick Abasta, the Navajo Nation’s communications director, said he believes Shelly would support renaming part of I-40.

“He’s definitely a major supporter and stands behind the Navajo Code Talkers,” Abasta said. “Anything that would honor them in that way would certainly be a blessing.”


• Navajo Code Talker Trail: Interstate 40 New Mexico and Flagstaff.

• Native American Veterans Highway: U.S. 89 between Utah and Flagstaff.

• Native American Women Veterans Highway: U.S. 160 between New Mexico and U.S. 89.

• Native American Code Talker Highway: State Route 264 between Tuba City and Window Rock.









Whitewashing Redskins Tour Gets Navajo Code Talkers Assoc. Endorsement



Gale Courey Toensing, Indian Country Today Media Network


Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, has been trying to sway public opinion to support his football team’s racist name for years now. He’s dangled money in front of needy schools in and around Pine Ridge. He tried—unsuccessfully—to get Haudenosaunee leaders to say disparaging things about Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter, who launched the Nation’s campaign to change the offensive name. He got Jennifer Farley, former high level White House employee during the George W. Bush administration, who was on the receiving end of gifts from disgraced former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, to facilitate a meeting with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and other Indian leaders—who have been asked to sign non-disclosure agreements about what’s been said and done at the meetings. He’s waved tempting 50-yard-line D.C. game tickets and Super Bowl tickets under the noses of lobbyists and leaders, and presented a poorly orchestrated series of online endorsements by fans who are supposedly Native (mostly claiming Cherokee heritage) in an effort to prove the team’s ugly name is not offensive to Indians.

RELATED: Former Abramoff Associate Arranges Daniel Snyder Meeting With Poarch Band

RELATED: Redskins Run the Wrong Play, Again, With ‘Community Voices’ Campaign

And now, in a sad turn of events, he’s managed to snare the endorsement of seven World War II veterans. After months of courting support in Indian country, Snyder finally chalked up a big success: Seven octogenarian Navajo Code Talkers have endorsed the Redskins name and mascot. But judging from the reaction in Indian country, it could be his greatest misstep yet in this sordid campaign.

The endorsement was approved at a meeting of the Navajo Code Talkers Association (NCTA) in Window Rock, Arizona on February 28 – and was met with outrage from the descendants of code talkers actively involved in the association and devoted to honoring the legacy of their fathers and grandfathers. Much of their ire is directed at Association Chairman Peter MacDonald, who they allege has “hijacked” the NCTA and manipulated the code talkers to endorse the name for his own benefit.

In an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network, MacDonald vigorously denied having any financial involvement with the Redskins team. “There’s been all kinds of rumors and innuendos and theories going around about what our relationship with the Washington Redskins is all about. We wanted to set the record straight. There have been calls that Redskins paid us money… this is all totally wrong. Let me say this: The Redskins’ invitation and visit by Navajo Code Talkers was totally, totally funded by Redskins… to honor the Navajo Code Talkers. It was completely initiated by the Redskins as part of their annual tribute to all armed forces.

“The Navajo Code Talkers weren’t paid one cent to be there, nor were there any promises made about donations… ”

Reports of the NCTA endorsement showed up on Facebook late in the afternoon of February 28, and the news spread quickly. Here are a few typical posts. (Both the Facebook link and people’s names have not been used in order to protect their privacy.)

“People are crying. I almost threw up when I read it.”

“Sad day… so much for honor.”

“Rather give more attention to the medicine man association… code talkers have become nationalist puppets and fall for anything.”

Several Navajo descendants and other Navajo citizens expressed suspicion about MacDonald and his motives. Their common theme was, “He divided the Nation.” A former Navajo Nation president, MacDonald was removed from office by the Navajo Tribal Council in 1989 under suspicion of accepting kickbacks from contractors and corporations. The chaos that followed led, a few months later, to a riot in Window Rock in which two MacDonald supporters were shot to death and tribal police officers were injured. “It was an event that would forever change life for many people on the Navajo Nation,” the Navajo Times reported.

MacDonald was tried and sent to federal prison in 1992 for 107 violations of U.S. law, including charges of fraud, extortion, riot, bribery, and corruption. He served eight years of a 14-year sentence and was released in January 2001, when his sentence was commuted by then-President Bill Clinton on his last day in office.

MacDonald was voted president of the NCTA in January 2012.


In November, Navajo Nation Councilman Joshua Lavar Butler condemned what he called team officials’ “antics to use our beloved and cherished Navajo Heroes as pawns in their Public Relations battle to perpetuate this indignity and ignorance.”

Butler has drafted a legislative resolution opposing the Redskins name and distancing the Navajo government from the NCTA. He stressed that people should differentiate between the NCTA and the Nation’s government. “I must remind the public that the endorsement is not from the Navajo Nation government or the Navajo Nation as a whole,” he said.

“I know this really hurts our inter-tribal relationships around the country,” Butler added. ”As a council member, I’ve been very involved statewide and on the national level with advocacy efforts with other tribal leaders and something like this, it does affect unity and our working relationships inter-tribally.”

The Navajo Nation is not a member of the National Congress of American Indians, which recently published a white paper called “Ending the Legacy of Racism in Sports & the Era of Harmful ‘Indian’ Mascots,” but it does partner with NCAI on issues of common concern.

“The NCTA is putting us in an awkward position because some tribes, especially on the east coast, are fighting this aggressively. At the end of the day, we have to work with those tribes as well and the NCTA is sending the wrong message by endorsing the utilization of that term,” Butler said. “It’s very upsetting, it’s shameful, it’s wrong, it’s derogatory and the Redskins should be ashamed of themselves.”


MacDonald and members of the NCTA met Snyder last fall after he began his tour of Indian country, seeking support for his team name and mascot. A friend of Snyder’s told the Washington Post that the trips to Indian country were motivated by Snyder’s “feelings about the pain and depression – depression is the word he has used with me – of Native Americans who have no jobs, who have obesity issues, whose children are suffering.”

The trips also coincide with launching of a national campaign against the team name supported by the Oneida Indian Nation (which owns ICTMN) called “Change the Mascot.”

RELATED: Halbritter Brings ‘Change the Mascot’ Campaign to USET

In recent months, Snyder and his team officials have visited the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, a tribe under fire from other tribes for building a casino on Hickory Ground, a site that’s sacred to the Muscogee Creek Indians, and the poverty-stricken Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico, among other tribes. Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie told the Washington Post that Snyder and company have taken more than a dozen unpublicized trips around Indian country.

RELATED: The Battle For Hickory Ground

While those trips were unpublicized, Snyder’s pursuit of the Navajo Code Talkers was no secret. In late November, the Redskins plane flew MacDonald, and members George James Sr. and George Willie Sr. from Gallup, New Mexico to D.C. for the November 25 Washington-San Francisco game to “honor” them, accompanied by a blitz of media attention.

Suzan Harjo wrote of the event: “The Redskins’ ‘honoring’ of Navajo code talkers consisted of four frail veterans standing in the end zone and receiving a round of applause. Three of the four Navajo elders wore Redskins jackets, with the new-clothes price tags still hanging at their wrists. These seniors probably thought this was another in a long line of recent recognitions of their WWII achievements some 70 years ago, rather than any implied endorsement of the team’s name.”

Related: Red*kins ‘Honor’ Codetalkers—How Low Will They Go?

On hearing about the Code Talkers endorsement of the Redskins, Harjo honed in on MacDonald’s involvement. “He has a long history of exploiting his people,” she said, “and I think this is an example of that.”


MacDonald has a simple explanation for the endorsement: he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the name, and he claims other Navajo feel the same way. “So far as we’re concerned, so far as people are concerned here at Navajo, redskins have always meant Native Americans or Indians to us – nothing more. So I don’t know who decided to make that a slur word or offensive. To us, redskins, whiteskins, blackskins, yellowskins, brownskins – we here on earth did not create the color of human skins; it was the Great Spirit that created us with different colors and we honor His creation and have no problem with anyone using those colors to identify the Lord’s creation.”

Asked if he’d mind if his grandchildren were called redskins, he said, “No! As a matter of fact we have schools right here on Navajo Nation – Red Mesa school – it’s a Navajo high school. The school [nickname] name is Redskins.”

He said he was not familiar with the origins of the name, or the 1755 Phips Proclamation in Maine that detailed the bounty prices the colonial government paid for Indian scalps, “but humans around the world have different colored skin – what’s wrong with calling them by the color of their skin?” he said.
The suggestion that most Native Americans and others see the name as a hateful racist word set MacDonald on an anti-media diatribe. “You press people! I don’t know what’s wrong with you! We have so many issues with Native American people – states, the federal government stealing our water, taking our land. There’s poverty and high unemployment on Indian reservations. Why don’t you go over there and report those things? Is the change of [the] name going to change poverty on Navajo? Will that create thousands of jobs?

“There’s the cancer rate, as well as diabetes, alcoholism, the suicide rate – all much higher than outside society. It’s a third-world nation in the back door of the United States. Report that! Forget about this name change business. We can talk about that after we put the Indian back on equal footing with the rest of the world.”

MacDonald brushed aside the fact that studies show the offensive name is emotionally and psychologically harmful to Indian children. “The children here at Navajo at Red Mesa don’t want to change their name, they want to remain redskins,” he said.


The NCTA endorsement of the Redskins name passed by a vote of 7-0-0, meaning only seven code talkers attended the meeting. MacDonald said there are currently around 40 code talker members and all of them were notified of the meeting, but several descendants said their fathers and grandfathers were not notified.

Ron Kinsel, son of Code Talker John Kinsel, added that his dad did not approve of the endorsement of the Redskins name or the way the vote was conducted. “It was done without the association’s awareness. They were trying to pass it without a quorum,” Kinsel said.

MacDonald told ICTMN that the association’s bylaws define a quorum as 10 percent of the total member and therefore the seven-member vote was legitimate. However, Section 13 of the NCTA bylaws says, “The greater of ten (10) voting members or ten (10) percent of the voting members” constitutes a quorum, meaning that 10 members were required for the vote. The bylaws also mandate that “Notice of any meeting shall be given by oral or written notice delivered to each member. . . not less than ten (10) days nor more than fifty (50) days before the date of the meeting.”

The NCTA endorsement has mobilized the code talkers’ descendants into action. A meeting for concerned descendants of Navajo Code Talkers has been scheduled for Saturday, March 15, 2014 at 9:00 a.m. at Cafe Iina at the Navajo Nation Museum. Duvonne Manuelito, whose late grandfather James Manuelito was one of the original 29 code talkers, said it’s an opportunity for all the code talkers’ descendants to come together and plan a strategy to protect their fathers’ and grandfather’s legacy. “We need to let people know there’s another side to what’s going on.”


Inspired by a Navajo Code Talker Hero: Meet U.S. Marine Sgt. Delshayne John, Navajo

Sgt. Delshayne John speaks fluent Navajo, serves as a communications Marine and credits his decision to serve in the military to his upbringing on the Navajo reservation in Fort Defiance, Ariz., and the influence of his grandfather, Jimmie M. Begay. Begay served as a Navajo code talker during World War II. Photo by Sgt. Ray Lewis/Marine Forces Reserve/DoD/
Sgt. Delshayne John speaks fluent Navajo, serves as a communications Marine and credits his decision to serve in the military to his upbringing on the Navajo reservation in Fort Defiance, Ariz., and the influence of his grandfather, Jimmie M. Begay. Begay served as a Navajo code talker during World War II. Photo by Sgt. Ray Lewis/Marine Forces Reserve/DoD/

Cpl. Nana Dannsaappiah, DoD, Indian Country Today Media Network

What makes Sgt. Delshayne John stand out from his fellow Marines at Marine Corps Support Facility New Orleans isn’t the fact that he rose through the ranks to be meritoriously promoted to sergeant in less than three years.

It isn’t that he is only on his first tour and already works directly for a three-star general. It isn’t that the 21-year-old, 175 pounds packed into a lean 6-foot-2 inch frame, is an experienced rodeo rider, basketball and football player, wrestler and cross country virtuoso.

What makes John different is his Native American heritage. His two great granduncles or as he refers to them, grandfathers, Leonard Begay and Jimmie M. Begay, served as Navajo code talkers during World War II.

John, who speaks fluent Navajo, serves as a communications Marine and credits his decision to serve in the military to his upbringing on the Navajo reservation in Fort Defiance, Ariz., and the influence of one specific grandfather, Jimmie M. Begay.

“My dad left when I was three and he (Jimmie M. Begay) has always been there for me so he has been the father figure in my life,” said John.

There is always something to do

Traditional Navajo houses made of wooden poles, tree bark and mud, called hogans, and trailers sparsely populated the valley overlooked by mountains. There were no amusement parks or shopping malls, just families engaged in their daily chores and livestock roaming the plains.

In one trailer, John, his three younger brothers and his sister lived with their mother – no electricity and no running water. His grandfather and grandmother lived in the next house down the road.

In the absence of John’s father, Begay took it upon himself to groom John into a respectable young man, filled with the Navajo traditional values and able to take care of his mom and siblings as the man of the house.

John described his grandfather as very stern. Granddad’s rules: you don’t sleep in, you rise before the sun, you run towards the east every morning, pray and come back.

“You can’t be lazy,” he said the old veteran used to insist. “There is always something to do.”

Even after John completed his chores, sitting back and relaxing in the house wasn’t an option. Begay pushed him to go outside and play with his siblings or find something productive to do.

Begay trained his grandson to do many things, from fixing cars to taming horses.

John remembers when he got his first horse. Several wild horses roamed the reservation. The rule was whoever caught them, kept them. As John explained it, the problem was not with catching the horses but taming them. Begay caught a wild horse and domesticated her, and when she had a baby, Begay gave the foal to John.

“He taught me how to do it then he said ‘here’s your horse, now break it,’” John said.

“I just never felt like I could be bored with him, no matter what we were doing he always had something to teach me,” he added.

The two bonded over chores and many of the reservation activities: hunting, branding cows, feeding the family animals, rodeo, etc.

As John grew older and the responsibility of taking care of his younger siblings became greater, so did the stress. He couldn’t show any weakness or emotional vulnerability as the man of the house – not to his younger brothers and sister – but he knew he could always confide in his grandfather.

“We got pretty good about reading each other,” said John. “Anytime I needed somebody to talk to, he was always there for me so he was like my shoulder to lean on.”

I envied him

In 1942, the Marine Corps began recruiting and training Navajos for code talking because they spoke an unwritten language, unintelligible to anyone except another Navajo. Navajo Marines developed and memorized codes which, it is believed, the Japanese never cracked. They became America’s answer to the Japanese interception and decryption of indispensable messages during World War II.

Begay served in the war as a code talker and it was his stories about serving in the military that opened John up to a world outside the reservation and the Marine Corps.

“What really got me is the bond that he built with a lot of different people and that he got to travel,” said John. “I just saw what kind of person it made him and I envied him and wanted to be like him.”

Begay passed away in 2006. John was still a teenager coming of age, 15 years old.

His grandfather had always hinted that he wanted John to join the Marines but never pushed him, John said. In his last days, Begay finally admitted to John that he wanted him to join, but he encouraged him to pursue whatever he was passionate about.

“That just kind of sealed it for me,” John said about his decision to enlist.

John graduated Navajo Prep High School in New Mexico in 2009. He left for the Marine Corps that same year.

The legacy continues …

Marine Corps recruit training has a reputation of being physically challenging. John, whose active youth read like an ironman competition – wrestling, playing basketball, football, running track, wrangling cows and riding bulls – was prepared for the physical aspect. It was the emotional isolation he wrestled with.

“The hardest part was being away from my family,” he said. “It was the first time I left the reservation.”

He earned his eagle, globe and anchor and became a Marine Jan. 19, 2010, at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.

The newly minted Marine’s first duty station was Marine Forces Reserve headquarters in New Orleans, where his fellow Marines say his grandfather would be proud.

“No doubt his grandfather would be proud of him, very proud,” said Cpl. Travis Ortega who works with John in the MARFORRES G-6 Communications and Electronics Division, and was with him in boot camp, Marine Combat Training and communications school.

Pfc. John arrived in 2010 and was placed at the G-6 service desk, the first stop for troubleshooting information technology systems. He made it his mission to stand out, and eventually, callers were requesting John by name. He also worked in several other sections of the G-6, earning a reputation as the go-to-guy wherever he worked.

“If you need something done, he is the guy to go to,” said Ortega. “No matter if he’s never heard of it or seen it before, he’ll find a way and figure it out for you.”

When MARFORRES moved its headquarters from New Orleans proper to Algiers, La., in 2011, John was added to the team in charge of setting up communication equipment for the new building.

After consistently proving himself a valuable asset during his young career, he was selected for a highly-coveted but demanding position to work directly for the MARFORRES and MARFORNORTH commander, Lt. Gen. Steven Hummer, and his staff.

In August 2012, Hurricane Isaac hit New Orleans and Marines had the option of voluntarily evacuating. At the same time, Hummer’s MARFORNORTH was tasked with supporting the Republican National Convention, so the general remained in New Orleans. John stayed back also – to make sure the general and his staff had all means available to communicate.

Personnel were shorthanded, the general needed updates, video teleconferences had to be set up and broken equipment needed fixing. John tackled the issues by day, and stood watch outside the general’s office at night.

“When you have generals on deck, nobody is not going to not stand post,” he said.

For his actions during the hurricane, John received a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. Those who knew him and worked with him weren’t surprised.

“You can always rely on Sgt. John to provide excellent results,” said Master Sgt. Esteban Garcia, who supervises John. “He is very reliable and has initiative.”

As far as John’s motivations, it’s simple: honor his grandfather and ancestors by being the best Marine he can be.

“I’m really proud of the legacy that my ancestors set for me and I just hope that I can amount to a fraction of what they were,” John said.

For now he sits at his desk, answering questions for an interview, typing away at an email, his phone is ringing, and an officer is walking towards him with a concerned look on his face. Some might get frustrated or muddle through the demanding scene, but to John, it’s just another day at the office. He remains calm, answers the phone and addresses the officer, who tells him that the general’s computer needs urgent fixing. Off he runs to assess the situation.

John, who plans on serving at least 20 years in the Marines, is calculating his next move to become a Marine Corps Special Operations Command critical skills operator or a Marine security guard assigned to protect embassies around the globe.

It wouldn’t be hard for a Marine like John to do so. His physical fitness is top-notch and he has earned a reputation which is all his own.

John says his current repute is because he finds something positive everyday and puts his best foot forward even when the situation is not ideal.

Those who know him say that he is just being John, paying his respects to his grandfather and the proud historical legacy of the Navajo code talkers.

Read more: