Code Talkers Honored in Ceremony Minus Medals
by April Hale 
The Navajo Times 
   

On the Fourth of July, Code Talker Robert Yazzie, a 50-year resident of Madison, Tenn., received a Congressional Silver Medal for his bravery in World War II.

Yazzie lives in a care facility where he is recovering from triple bypass surgery and a broken leg. Yazzie is a diabetic and the illness is delaying the healing of his leg.

Yazzie moved to Tennessee after the war. He got married and started a family. The last time Yazzie set foot on reservation land was in 1987.

Senator Jeff Bingaman discovered Yazzie and sent him a letter stating that he will receive a silver medal. Bingaman then contacted Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper and at an Independence Day celebration Yazzie was honored. Yazzie's son, Bruce, and residents of the care center witnessed the momentous event.

"It's just an unbelievably great honor to know that my dad actually helped win the war," said Bruce Yazzie, interviewed by telephone recently.
   

Robert Yazzie of Madison, Tennessee,
is presented with the Congressional Silver
Medal in a July 4th ceremony in honor of
his service as a Code Talker during the
Pacific Campaign of World War II. He is a
50-year resident of Tennessee. 
(Courtesy photo - USMC)  

"It's hard to describe his reaction. It is a big time honor," added Bruce, speaking in a heavy Southern accent. "I think inside he's probably excited. It's more of a humble acceptance for him. He doesn't really think he deserves the medal."

At the ceremony, Cooper said, "This award is given to Mr. Yazzie for genuine heroic and unselfish devotion."

Bruce Yazzie said his father never talked about his experiences as a code talker but that he is getting more publicity now that the story is out.

"Over the last few years I've heard bits and pieces of stories. He didn't really discuss it a whole lot," said Bruce Yazzie.

Robert Yazzie, also interviewed over the telephone, began to cry as he told stories of his time in the war as a code talker.

"To me I don't think I deserve this medal," said Robert Yazzie. "I was like just any other boys there. I was just doing my job."

Robert Yazzie is originally from Crystal, N.M. He attended Good Shepherd Mission school in Fort Defiance as a boy and a Farmington Academy as a young man. Once he graduated from high school, a recruiter persuaded him to join the Marine Corps.

Yazzie said that he didn't get much training in sending messages or coding but went right into combat at Guam. "We got practical training," he said.

Robert Yazzie had a stroke about seven years ago which hinders his speech and he is paralyzed on his right side.

"People at the hospital call me a hero but I don't feel like a hero," Yazzie said, laughing.

Yazzie revealed stories of close encounters with combat. He said a bullet flew over his head.

"That guy must not have been a very good shot," he said, again laughing.

Yazzie also recalled herding sheep for his grandmother and tending to the family livestock.

"I had a good life with a lot of experiences," He said.

Yazzie said he personally doesn't like war because of the killing he witnessed but admits that in order for a government to get what it wants people must die.

Bruce Yazzie, who grew up in Tennessee, said the Navajo culture was never introduced in his home as a child. But he does attend the few Native American functions held in Nashville.

   

2003 The Navajo Times 

Reprinted as a historical document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html