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Navajo Code Talker Samuel Sandoval dies at 98; only 3 Navajo Code Talkers remain

By: - August 2, 2022 11:30 am

Samuel Sandoval. Photo courtesy Navajo Nation

One of the few remaining Navajo Code Talkers, Samuel Sandoval, died at the age of 98.

“Sam was a great warrior. (He) served his country well; especially using the top secret Navajo Code,” Navajo Code Talker and Navajo Code Talker Association President Peter MacDonald said in a text message to The Arizona Mirror. 

“He wanted to tell all Navajo families and (the) younger generation the importance of our Navajo language,” he added. “He’ll be terribly missed.”

The Navajo Code talkers were a group of U.S. Marines who used their Native language to transmit messages during World War II. Only three are still alive today: MacDonald, John Kinsel Sr. and Thomas H. Begay.

“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,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a press release. 

“We are saddened by his passing, but his legacy will always live on in our hearts and minds,” he added. “On behalf of the Navajo Nation, we offer our prayers and heartfelt condolences to his wife, Malula Sandoval, his children, and many loved ones.”

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Sandoval was born in 1922 in Nageezi, New Mexico, and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on March 26, 1943. He completed basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California, where the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers arrived in September 1942. The men were responsible for developing the unbreakable code used across the Pacific during World War II.

Sandoval served five combat tours, including Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam, Peleliu and Okinawa, and was honorably discharged in 1946.

“The Navajo people mourn the loss of a grandfather, father, brother and uncle who dedicated his life to uplift communities. Navajo Code Talker Sam Sandoval lived a life where character, courage, honor, and integrity guided his journey,” said Navajo Nation Council Speaker Seth Damon in a press release.

“His impact on history will forever be remembered and we sincerely share our love with his family during this time,” he added. “May he rest among our most resilient warriors.” 

After serving in the Marines, Sandoval returned home and enrolled in college to earn a certificate in substance abuse counseling. He worked in Farmington, New Mexico, as a counselor for many years until opening his own clinic, To-Tah Alcohol Counseling, in the 1970s. 

During Sandoval’s military service, he earned a Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, a Combat Action Ribbon, a China Service Medal, a World War II Victory Medal, a Navy Occupation Service Medal with Asia Clasp, and an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with a silver star. Sandoval also received the 2022 American Spirit Award for Bravery from the National WWII Museum.

Details on Sandoval’s funeral services are pending, but the family has started a GoFundMe page to help with any expenses.

***UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comments from Peter MacDonald.

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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.

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