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Author to share rich details of Code Talkers’ WWII service in Havasu

March 4, 2019

Their covert work was shrouded in secrecy for decades. But once the veil was lifted, the nation learned that World War II battles and the war itself may have turned out quite differently for the United States had it not been for the tactical communications of Code Talkers.

Laura Tohe is the daughter of a Navajo Code Talker. She will be in Lake Havasu City March 7 to discuss her father’s service in World War II and share details of her research on other Code Talkers. The free 6:30 p.m. presentation is at the Mohave County Library.

“I’ll give a power point presentation on the oral history research I did on some of the last Code Talkers in which they spoke of their lives before, during and after the war,” Tohe said in an email.

“I’ll also cover how they were uniquely qualified to become Code Talkers, even before they enlisted, how they used the Navajo language and culture to help them develop the code that was never deciphered by the Japanese cryptographers. My presentation contains portraits of the Code Talkers and historical documents and photos of their service.

“As a daughter of a Code Talker and a member of the Navajo Nation, my talk comes from the research I did visiting the code talkers and their descendants. Their testimonies are in Navajo and English with translations given in my book. I found their stories moving and inspirational from a group of men who were silenced for many years. They are now in their 80s and 90s. It is believed that there are less than 15 Navajo code talkers still living,” she said.

Her oral history book, “Code Talker Stories,” will be for sale when Tohe’s presentation has concluded.

It is not her only book. She has written and co-authored four other books and earned several awards, including the Dan Schilling Public Scholar for the Arizona Humanities. She was the Navajo Nation Poet Laureate for several years and is a professor emerita of English at Arizona State University. Born in Fort Defiance, Arizona, she had five brothers and one sister. Her father died in 1994.

Tohe was 30 years old when she found out her father was a Code Talker.

“This is partly because the Code Talkers were sworn to secrecy to not reveal their service as Code Talkers for many years after they were discharged. I visited my father in 1983 and it was the only time he spoke of being a Code Talker. He had just returned from Washington, D.C. where the code talkers were honored for their service. It wasn’t until one of my students gave a passionate research presentation in class on the Code Talkers did I become more aware and curious about my father’s service and the Code Talkers,” Tohe said.

Code Talkers were treated unfairly after the war by the U.S. government. The Smithsonian website notes that racism toward Indian people was common and even though they had served their country with distinction, Indian veterans could not eat or drink in some establishments — or even vote in some national or state elections.

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 granted full United States citizenship to all American Indians. However, some states still refused to let American Indians vote. Not until 1948 in Arizona and New Mexico, and 1957 in Utah, could American Indians vote in those states.

Tohe had more to add.

“From what I’ve learned military records were not always carefully kept and were sometimes lost during the war,” she said. “Some of the Code Talkers’ military records were destroyed in a fire which prevented them from getting their benefits. Others had to hire lawyers to get the benefits owed them. One Code Talker finally got his compensation only after hiring a lawyer…when he was in his 70s.”