Last Updated: Sunday, March 10, 2002 - 02:56:37 AM EST
Tsosie Gets His Medal Bingaman Awards Code Talker in Person
by Jim Snyder, Staff writer
BLOOMFIELD - He couldn't go to the mountain, so the mountain came to him.
Navajo Code Talker David Tsosie, 79, received his much-anticipated Congressional Code Talker Silver Medal from U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Saturday afternoon during a ceremony at the Bloomfield Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.
"Of all the honors Congress can bestow, the awarding of the Congressional medals is ... the most distinguished," Bingaman said. Other warriors who have received it include George Washington and Gen. Colin Powell, he added. "And here, finally, we add the name of David Tsosie, a Navajo Code Talker, to these prestigious ranks."
Navajo Nation President Kelsey Begaye, sporting a new crew cut and goatee, then wrapped the Navajo Nation flag around Tsosie's shoulders.
Tsosie received a standing ovation. More than 300 people attended the event - including a dozen Code Talkers.
The weather was perfect - with a solid blue sky and no wind - for the outdoor ceremony which was held in an open-sided festival tent in the center's parking lot. The day before the ceremony had brought light snow in the morning and a heavy, unforgiving-freezing wind throughout the afternoon.
"The creator likes to joke," said relieved caretaker Priscilla Tucker. "Yesterday he was making fun of us. He controls the weather. Today I woke up and it was perfect."
Bloomfield Mayor Keith Johnson had proclaimed March 9 as "David Tsosie Day." "We are excited to have this citizen of notoriety (in our community) and appreciate all that veterans have done."
Tsosie's plight drew the attention of lawmakers and the media last Thanksgiving week when his nursing home staff was told he would not receive his medal, Nov. 24, 2001, in Window Rock, Ariz., along with approximately 225 other Code Talkers. Marine Corps said they could not verify his service.
But nursing staff, family, friends and fellow Code Talkers appealed directly to state and U.S. lawmakers with proof and testimonies that Tsosie was a Code Talker and should be given his medal.
Stories quickly spread to newspapers throughout the country and onto Native American Web sites. Tsosie received cards and letters from all over the United States and Canada. Some were from other Native American tribes, including Washington state, and from grade-school children in Flagstaff, Ariz., who "wished Tsosie would get his medal soon."
The Marine Corps agreed last month, through the direct efforts of Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M. and Bingaman, stating that Tsosie was indeed a Code Talker. The state of New Mexico also agreed. Gov. Gary Johnson and the senate honored Tsosie, Feb. 5, in a ceremony at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe.
State lawmakers Rep. Ray Begaye and Sen. John Pinto sat grinning proudly on the stage with Tsosie during Saturday's ceremony. "The man suffered this long in anticipation of receiving his medal," Begaye said earlier in the day. "All the Navajo people support David getting his medal, including in the Navajo Veteran Affairs."
Tsosie's boyhood friends from Shiprock and fellow Code Talkers Samuel Sandoval and Wilfred Billey, who were given their awards at the Window Rock ceremony, were also there to witness Tsosie receiving his medal.
"I feel very happy for him, after all this turmoil," Sandoval said. "I'm glad to see a lot of people." With a laugh he added, "This is a better ceremony than we had in Window Rock."
The three men, friends for more than 70 years, voluntarily joined the Marines in 1943 when they heard Navajos were needed. They went through boot camp and Navajo Communications School together in California before being shipped off of New Guinea--a two-week trip from the west coast by ship. The day after they arrived they went into combat.
Throughout the morning and afternoon the crowd waited in lines to have the Code Talkers, including Tsosie, Sandoval and Billey, sign "Windtalker" movie posters. More than 300 free posters were brought to the nursing home by MGM Distribution to promote the upcoming movie, expected to be released this summer, about the Navajo Code Talkers.
Also present in full-dress uniform was Marine Cpl. Cordell Thompson, 23, of Chalko Canyon. Thompson, an electrician repair technician, was on leave and decided to attend. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to witness a Code Talker getting his medal and to meet some of the Code Talkers," he said. "All the Navajo Marines out there - how many can say they've shaken a Code Talkers hand, had their pictures taken with them, gotten their autographs? I'll be the envy of other Navajo Marines in the Marine Corps fleet."
Thompson added "They call us the corporals, the backbone of the Corps who get the stuff done between the sergeants and privates. Tsosie was a corporal too."
Bradley Hight, a member of the Ute Mountain Tribe and representative of the Korean-Vietnam Veterans' Association in Colorado, also attended. "We all fall together (in the service) even though we are from different tribes. We are all one nation," he said. "I'm very proud he's being recognized - the medals were deserved way back in the beginning (at the end of World War II)."
Shirley Lard, of Flora Vista, agreed in a letter to the editor, published Feb. 28. "He has already waited 50 years. I don't know how to speak Navajo, but I really believe that if the Code Talkers has told everyone to wait, we all would probably be speaking Japanese now. Just do it! Give the man his medal," she wrote.
That was finally accomplished Saturday.
Jim Snyder: firstname.lastname@example.org
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