Last year, when we were on the Navajo reservation at Window Rock, Arizona I was sitting on a bench next to an old Navajo who noticed that I had a lot of facial hair (I have been mistaken for Santa Claus by children). He told me that he plucked his facial hair out and demonstrated with the very few strands that Navajos have. He informed me that he was 88 years old and had a lot of corn. I commented that he must have a lot of water for the corn and he retorted that he lived in the hills with the trees and had plenty of water for his 2 to 3 acres of corn.
Now 2 or 3 acres of corn is a considerable amount for anyone, let alone someone living on the Navajo reservation. At some point in the conversation his daughter came up to let him know what she was going to do and he told her to tell me how old he was and she said with a sigh of resignation he is 88 years old and has a lot of corn.
About an hour into the conversation with him I noticed that he was wearing a ball cap emblazoned with the US Marines logo. I asked him if he had been in the Marines and he said that when he was 17 he was looking for a job and they put a whole bunch of kids on the back of a truck like cattle and took them to the mine. He then said that he had to lie about his age because the mine would only accept those that were 18 years of age or older. Not long after he started working at the mine the US government subscription came by and took all of the 18-year-olds from the mine and enlisted them in the service to fight World War II. He then went on to tell me that he was a code talker in the Pacific during 1943 all away through the end of the war in 1945, and then was transferred to Japan to help collect the armaments Japan was to relinquish to the United States.
At that point I asked him in my best Japanese if he spoke Japanese he responded, in Japanese, that he spoke a little bit. Hmm, what are the odds that a Navajo 88 years old having lived on the Navajo reservation his entire life except for the time he was in the service as a Marine code talker from 1943 through 1946, including the time he was in Japan, understanding the question that I had asked him?
When I have told the story to some they argued that he may have learned enough Japanese to fool people into thinking that he had been a code talker and that he had been in Japan in 1946. That would be going a long way to foster a fabrication of his involvement in World War II.
Behind the government building at Window Rock there was a beautiful memorial to the code talkers from the Navajo nation during World War II. The Navajo that I was talking to spoke of five languages. They were Navajo, Hopi, code talker, Japanese, and English.
This is one of the memorable events and the reason that I love to travel the United States talking to people learning their stories remembering their history with them and enjoying the comradery of companionship.
What a wonderful day at Window Rock, when I met and was able to talk to this old Navajo gentleman who served our country during World War II in the Pacific Theater and then went on to experience the foreign nation of Japan to the extent that he learned the language and 70+ years later still remembered how to respond in Japanese.