Samuel Sandoval, one of the last living Navajo Code Talkers from World War II, died on Friday at a hospital in Shiprock, New Mexico. According to the Navajo Nation, there were 418 Code Talkers who served during the war.
Sandoval’s wife, Malula, told The Associated Press that her husband passed away at the age of 98. Sandoval was one of four remaining Navajos who used their language to transmit messages in code during World War II.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez shared a photo of Sandoval on Twitter, and wrote, “The life of Navajo Code Talker Samuel Sandoval remembered and honored by the Navajo People.”
After Sandoval’s passing, just three Code Talkers are still alive today: Peter MacDonald, John Kinsel Sr. and Thomas H. Begay.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham tweeted her gratitude for the World War II veteran.
“New Mexico is deeply proud to have been home to so many Navajo Code Talkers, including national hero Samuel Sandoval of Nageezi,” Gov. Grisham tweeted. “I am grateful for Mr. Sandoval’s incredible service to our nation – may he rest in peace, and may we never forget the dedication of the Code Talkers.”
Sandoval was in Okinawa, Japan, when he received a message from another Navajo Code Talker notifying him that the Japanese had surrendered, the AP reported. Malula Sandoval said her husband told his superiors about the encoded message.
National Navajo Code Talkers Day is held annually on Aug. 14, and Malula said Samuel was looking forward to this year’s celebration, as well as visiting a museum built in honor of the Code Talkers near the Navajo National capital of Window Rock.
“Sam always said, ‘I wanted my Navajo youngsters to learn, they need to know what we did and how this code was used and how it contributed to the world,’” she recalled. “That the Navajo language was powerful and always to continue carrying our legacy.”
Sandoval was born in Nageezi, New Mexico and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on March 26, 1943. In the Corps, he helped recruit other Navajos – who also became Code Talkers – and served five combat tours before receiving an honorable discharge in 1946.
One of Sandoval’s daughters, Karen John, said her father was curious about live, and would frequently read newspapers and attend community, veterans, Code Talker and legislative meetings. He was dedicated to the Navajo way of life, and enjoyed traveling and sharing his beliefs and lessons.
Navajo President Jonathan Nez said in a statement that the legendary Code Talker was a loving and courageous person who sacrificed “more than we will ever know” to defend his homeland and the “sacred Navajo language.”
“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,” he said.
“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.”