(CNN) — Samuel Sandoval, one of the last surviving Navajo Code Talkers who served during World War II, died Friday, according to a release from the Navajo Nation.
During the war, Sandoval was one of hundreds of young Navajo men recruited to use an 813-word code based on the native Navajo language to send and receive military communications in the South Pacific Theater.
“Navajo Code Talker Samuel Sandoval will always be remembered as a loving and courageous person who sacrificed more than we will ever know to defend our homelands using our sacred Navajo language,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. “We are saddened by his passing, but his legacy will always live on in our hearts and minds. On behalf of the Navajo Nation, we offer our prayers and heartfelt condolences to his wife, Malula Sandoval, his children, and many loved ones.”
Sandoval was born in 1922 in Nageezi, New Mexico, and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1943, the Navajo Nation release said. He completed basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in California, where the 29 original Code Talkers had arrived in 1942.
The original Navajo recruits were tasked with developing an unbreakable code by using words from their language and encoding it with word substitution to transmit tactical information over telephone and radio. The Navajo language was chosen as a code because it was not written and very few people who aren’t of Navajo origin could speak it, according to the CIA.
The Code Talkers were used in every major operation involving the Marines in the Pacific theater, and are credited with helping the US take Iwo Jima.
Sandoval served in five combat tours, including Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam, Peleliu, and Okinawa, before he was honorably discharged on January 26, 1946, according to the Navajo Nation release.
He and other Navajo Code Talkers could not talk about the code for more than two decades, until the operation was declassified in 1968.
In 1982, then-President Ronald Reagan gave the Code Talkers a Certificate of Recognition and declared August 14 Navajo Code Talkers Day.
Sandoval earned multiple awards for his service, including a Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, a Combat Action Ribbon, a China Service Medal, a World War II Victory Medal, a Navy Occupation Service Medal with Asia Clasp and an Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with a silver star, in lieu of five bronze stars, the release said.
Earlier this year, Sandoval also received the 2022 American Spirit Award for Bravery by the National WWII Museum.
Following his service with the Marine Corps, Sandoval earned a certificate in substance abuse counseling, and worked in Farmington, New Mexico as a counselor, the release said. In the 1970s, Sandoval opened his own clinic, named To-Tah Alcohol Counseling.
“Navajo Code Talker Samuel Sandoval was a great warrior and a compassionate family man. In every aspect of his life, he was a loving person who cared greatly for his people,” said Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer. “Today, I ask our Diné people to keep his spirit and his family in your prayers as we give thanks for his life and his legacy.”
Three living Navajo Code Talkers remain: Peter MacDonald, John Kinsel Sr. and Thomas H. Begay.
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