from Interview with Joe
Kellwood on December 28, 2004:
somewhere around there, we get the report from Ernie Pyle; he was in
my teacher, she let us know
what’s going on, what country fall, where Hitler is heading and all
things. And between time, my Mother passed away in 1937 and my father
away in 1939. I had one sister that never went to school, so she don’t
English and she need help ‘cause there a horse and someone needs to
and supplies. And in those days, I think I drop out of school one time
to support her.
You were in High school
Wingate Vocational High School.I drop
out of High School and at that time some Japs start going around
Gallup. That’s where I was working when I
enlisted. Wingate Ordinance Depot. I used to work with the bombs, two
used to push those on the conveyor and unload them in the storage area.
pretty good there. I was in good shape as a person, with good muscle. I
easy going and everything was easy for me o learn. So, I turned up
on that job and was making good money. (Into
And then the Japanese
bombed Pearl Harbor. And
you should have seen the big
long line at the places where they recruit into the service. Everybody
to join the service. I didn’t go at that time, when they bombed Pearl
stayed on at the job until I
turned twenty-one. I found more information on what outfit to join. I
one that took Guadalcanal, the
First Marine Division. I
followed that one. When I was working I would tell them, “that ‘s the
I’m gonna join.” I sure did. I made it to that one. They had good
They were a high-class outfit. They know the Japs. In early days, it
just war. The Japanese were very hateful people.Not
anymore, but in those days, they don’t
just kill you, they cut you up. Anything they can do to you, they do
it. You go
back and find your dead buddy. He’ll be hanging on a tree, with his
his mouth, you know what I mean. So that’s the way I know. I joined
after they hit Guadalcanal. I joined in October first and second in
Phoenix. I had joined in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Being that Arizona is my home, they sent me down here.
That’s 1942, when I enlist here.
From here I
went to San Diego.Let
me go back, I
enlisted in Albuquerque, they give you two weeks
your (things in order) and return to where you enlisted. You go there
go. All prepared to go into the service. In my case, they sent me down
here (Phoenix), We stopped in Gallup, New Mexico, in the evening. Here
these Navajos that I went to school with and a lot of others that I
I ask where they’re going and they say, “San Diego, Marine Corps.” So
there’s a group
of us that come from NM to Needles. It’s one of those places, I know
Williams and there’s Needles. I have to change the train there to go to
Phoenix and there rest went on
through L.A. and on to San Diego. I was coming down to
Wickenburg at in the morning. My
instructions were, when you get off the
train go a block east and a block north. I stay overnight here and they
place for me to stay and they furnish me food. The next day in the
evening, we left here and stopped some place
for a freight train to go by. We were near Yuma. They had the double
they put onto the one we had. So we went through the tunnels. We
stopped in old Mexico. Service people are on
the side, all guarding the
train, so no one jumps off. From there we made it to San Diego.
I joined the service
me why I joined the Marines. My sister was kind of getting scary.
way these enemies were doing things, torture. I just let her know that
going to get training to meet the enemy. And that made her cry.
Joe H. Kellwood
1st Marine Division
photograph by Kenji Kawano
from Interview with Keith Morrison Little on January 23, 2005:
Tell me what you were
doing before you
enlisted with the Marines.
I was in the U.S. Marine Corps from May 1943 to
November 1945. I was in school before enlisting. I was in the 10th
grade. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, I felt
that I had to enlist, I had to do something. It was a feeling of
think that was the underlying reason I enlisted in the Marine Corps.
you tell me
about a specific story of your service during the war?
don’t have a real interesting story about the war, but
here is one of the crazy ones. This happened in either February or
on an island called Iwo Jima. We had been at the front
lines for over a week and we were all tired and we didn’t have anything
We had rations, but we didn’t have anything hot. Then one day they
pulled us to
the rear. They told us we would rest there and recoup ourselves from
– we had hot chow coming! Well the hot chow came, and the people that
the meals, they hollered, “Come and get it!”
A bunch of guys went right ahead of us. Me and another guy, we kind of
dragged our feet, took our time. Just about the time we were getting
heard a whistling noise coming, so we all dove for cover wherever we
a place. The shell that came, it went right into the hot chow we were
to get, and busted it all up! A lot of the guys ahead of me got wounded
day. We were really upset with the Japanese that fired that shell. We
them every crazy name there is – “Go to hell!” we said – for shooting
hot chow, the first hot chow we had in more than a week. We didn’t get
it that day. Then we didn’t get any hot chow for another week.
did you get
involved with the Navajo Code project?
when I enlisted, I went to San Diego for boot camp. Just about the time
I was getting
done with boot camp training, my drill instructor came up to me one day
and said, “Are you an American Indian?” I told him, “Yes, sir.” Then he
said, “Are you a Navajo?” And I said, “Yes, sir.” Then he made a remark
Marine Corps needed Navajos because they made good scouts. My platoon
heard everything he said to me. I got a good ribbing out of that. They
that I was going to get my butt shot off for being eligible for going
(scouts cross the front line and go ahead to look around), because I
shot at all the time. I didn’t understand that he was saying that
make good communicators.
I went with a bunch of Navajos. We loaded up onto a truck
and they hauled us up to a place called Camp Pendleton.
We got there about noontime. There was nobody in the barracks, just us
new arrivals. When
the company came back it was about 4:30 in the afternoon, and we went
out to see what they looked like. There were about 200 Navajos there,
and we were stymied, wondering what all those Navajos were doing here
together. They still wouldn’t tell us what we were doing there.
next day they told us exactly what we were going to do.
We were going to study the Navajo code and memorize it. They told us,
go on leave, when you go home to your family, don’t tell anybody what
doing.” It was top military secret. It was bewilderment for all of us.
wanted to know why, but they wouldn’t have any of it. They wouldn’t let
questions. “Just do what you are told”, they said. When we were in the
classroom we were drilled and drilled. No writing it down. It was all
memorized. No pencils, no pieces of
paper would go out of the classroom. At the end of the class you had to
every pencil and piece of paper.
learn to speak English?
had a hard time learning English. When I was growing up on
the reservation around the Tuba City area, there was no church. But I
learned to say my prayers in Navajo.
We were restricted from talking Navajo with
each other at school. In class they taught you to write English and
letters and words, and then you’d try to talk. It was really hard to
communicate with another student because if you really wanted to tell
something or tell her something, you didn’t know how to do it in
you spoke out in Navajo, even secretly, there were people watching you
time and tattling on you, You would get whipped or punished for it.
the Christian mission was. The mission was to get the savages civilized
them in with American society.
go after you learned the Code?
finished my Code Talker school in November, shipped out in
January, and ended up in Pearl Harbor. Then they told us
we were going to some islands in a string, one was Roy (?) and the
other was Bemor (?). We came back to Maui to
rest and train some more, then
boarded ship again in May. Then we went to Saipan. On June 15, 1944
we landed on Saipan.
We were there about 3 weeks. When the island was secured then we could
take it easy.
was a radio man for a battalion commander. I followed that
commander around everywhere. I served him – he could talk on my radio
wanted to. Back at the command post I also manned the division radio,
code. The code was not regular Navajo language, but military language.
talker, he’s got it all in his head. He gets a message in plain written
English. As he transmits it, he is encoding it as he is talking. As the
the other end receives it, he hears the code. He translates it, and
writes it down in plain English. Then the written note in English goes
destination, for whatever execution is needed.
we loaded up and went to Pinyen(?). We completed that
project and came back to Maui.
We recouped there, and
that division was brought back up to strength. When we were strong we
looked for something new to do. With the code talkers we were taken to
headquarters on Maui and studied a “refreshed” code –
sometimes there were new words developed
during the process of battle. The code was getting streamlined a little
further. They were always trying to improve the speed and accuracy of
message, in such a way that the Navajo Code really outdid the
in December we pulled out again, went to Pearl Harbor,
got on ship and stopped at Guam.
None of us got off the boat there. After that we found out that we were
going to Iwo Jima.
In February 1945 we landed on Iwo Jima.
According to the
information that we had, we were not going to spend more than two weeks
island. But right off we realized that the Japanese were defending the
with everything they had. We were being shelled as we were coming in.
from February 19 to March 26 on that island. Then we came back to Maui
again so we could regroup and train through the summer. We were ready
again, I guess, when the word came that the Japanese had
Everything was done.
What was your
anticipation of going home was really overwhelming for
everybody. I came back to the U.S. in
November and was discharged later that month. I went back
around, visited my friends and family, and went back to school. I
from high school in Oklahoma, and
went for more schooling, and finally got a school teacher job. I taught
Indian kids at an Indian school. When I left the reservation, the
resisting sending their kids to school, because of how they were being
so there was a lot of teenage kids who were illiterate. The Bureau of
Affairs decided education was a priority, so they sent these people to
five-year program, and I was teaching in that program. I had kids there
never spoke a word of English. They learned English and learned
a trade there. Later I left there and became a logging manager for a
I am retired now.
How did it feel
not to be able to talk about your work
with the Navajo Code?
were told that the code was a top military secret. When
we left the USMC we were told we were not to tell anybody what we had
because the Navajo Code was still classified. We could not tell our
we had done in the Marines. In 1968 it finally was declassified, and
Marine Division, at their annual reunion in Chicago,
had the Code Talkers come to the reunion (I had a job and at that time
on in the year the Code Talkers got together in Window
Rock and got medallions. Then we could finally work on what we had
the stories you hear now came from that time we were together. We
recognized by the President of the U.S.,
so that the guys who started the code, the initial guys recruited in
got gold congressional medals of honor. The others like myself, we knew
about what we were doing, we just wanted to fight the Japanese. We got
recognized on November 11, 2001.
We got silver medals.
want to defend the U.S. in the war, when you hadn’t been treated very
call it “brainwashing” in the schools – they were trying
to civilize us to be ordinary American citizens, so being patriotic was
priority. But in that Christian school we must have had the right
(laughter!), because they said we were really the first people in
They wanted to convert the savage Indians to make them civil, fit them
American society. They had their work cut out for them! They were going
teach these kids not to be Indians.
lot of people say, “Why did you have to go fight for the U.S. when they
treated you so bad?” Well, they might have mistreated my
our people, imprisoned them, but they did let us come back to our land,
our Mother. America was our land. Supposing the Japanese came to the
mainland? They could
have come to our land. Patriotism, being an American Indian, I guess
This land is where we live, where our animals are, where our people
children and grandchildren able to speak
Navajo in school?
me, it’s number one that my children and grandchildren
are Navajos. They know what they are, and they also need to learn
the primary language of the U.S. We teach them Navajo at home.
would like it if you would observe Code Talker Day on
August 14. Tell stories about Code Talkers on that day, or maybe have a
Talker come to your area on that day. I’m always available.
Keith M. Little
Todich'ii'nii Clan 4th Marine Division
by Kenji Kawano
from Interview with Samuel
("Jesse") Smith PFC by Susan Hansen on January 8, 2005:
What do you
think about the treatment of Navajo's at Missionary Schools?
The treatment was
good, as was learning the English language Do you think
the American government treated Navajo's wrongly during history?
Very When did you
learn to speak English?
I learned to speak English when I was
years old at Day School. Did you like
I had to in order to live as
others. Where did
you learn to speak Navajo?
I learned Navajo at birth, spoke at home
up When did you
join the Marines?
May 3, 1943 Why did you
volunteer for WWII?
I wanted to get even with the
Japanese for sinking the USS Arizona and bombing of Pearl
Harbor What were
you doing when you joined the marines?
Going to school Did you
learn Morse code and semaphore?
Yes Was it
confusing thinking in both Navajo and English at the same time?
I had been doing it most of my life. Do you have
a specific memory of one of your experiences?
Many. After the
war, were you
treated any differently than before?
No What did you
do after the War?
I went back to school to finish
the 12th grade. Do you feel
that returning veterans became leaders in the Navajo community?
Yes, I have. When did you
join the Code Talker Association?