Three Navajo Code Talkers die within past two weeks

June 4, 2009
The number of surviving WWII Navajo Code Talkers rapidly dwindled with the loss of three veterans in just two weeks. The latest was Willie K. Begay, 88, of Window Rock, Ariz. who died Monday. His death came on Navajo Nation Memorial Day.

According to the Navajo-Hopi Observer, Begay was preceded in death by Thomas Claw, 87, of Parker, Ariz. on May 26; and John Brown Jr., 87, of Crystal, N.M. on May 21.

It was the US Marine Corps that, in an effort to find an effective way to send and receive messages during WWII, used a code of Navajo words that proved unbreakable. Brown was one of the original 29 Code Talkers recruited from the Navajo Nation into the elite group. Both Claw and Begay were subsequent recruits who became part of only about 400 total who served as Code Talkers.

All three men were awarded Congressional Medals in 2001. As one of the original 29 Code Talkers, Brown received the Gold Medal. Claw and Begay each received the Silver Medal.

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