Alfred K. Newman, one of the last of the Navajo Code Talkers, has died in New Mexico at age 94.
Newman was among 400 Navajos who helped defeat the Japanese during World War II by developing an unbreakable code for military transmissions using the Dine language. The Code Talkers have been celebrated in books, movies and poems for their vital role in the war, their courage in combat and the unusual encryption system that stymied enemy intelligence.
Newman served in the Pacific Islands with the U.S. Marine Corps, and was honored at the White House in 2017 by President Donald Trump.
Newman’s death was first reported by KAFF News, a northern Arizona radio station, and was announced on a code talker Facebook page.
Zonnie Gorman, a code talker daughter and historian, confirmed the death.
The death leaves eight surviving code talkers.
“Navajo Code Talker Alfred Newman was a hero, and he stood amongst giants,” said tribal President Russell Begaye. “We will be forever grateful for his contributions and bravery, as well as that of each and every one of our Navajo Code Talkers. They are national treasures.”
In an oral history, Newman told of herding sheep as a boy and attending a boarding school where rules prohibited students from speaking the language that would one day help the United States prevail in the South Pacific.
Newman told about a new boy in school who spoke no English, and was upset about something. When Newman asked in their native tongue what was wrong, a teacher overheard. As punishment, he was forced to write 500 times, “I must not speak Navajo.”
After the Japanese attack on Peal Harbor, Newman and many other Navajos enlisted. Some were chosen for the Code Talker project.
Because Dine has no words for things like bomb or airplane, Newman told an interviewer, they developed a code. For example, if a commander wanted two tanks moved forward, Newman would radio to another code talker, “Na-Keh-cheh–tala-he net-zin,” or “Two turtles needed.”
Arrangements for Newman are planned in Farmington, New Mexico. A funeral home representative said she could not immediately provide details.