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Navajo Code Talker Joe Vandever, Sr. Dies At Age 96

Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President

One of last surviving Navajo Code Talkers died in New Mexico Friday morning following health complications. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, Joe Vandever Senior was 96 years old.

Vandever enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in Santa Fe, N.M., in 1943. He served in Guam and Okinawa as well as the occupations of Japan and China and was discharged in 1946 as a corporal.

He and other Native Americans helped turn the tide of World War II using their languages to create a code the Japanese couldn’t break.

Vandever was married to his wife Bessie for 73 years before her death in September. They’re survived by a large family, including 55 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez praised Vandever, calling him a great warrior. Services will be held in Gallup, N.M., and he’ll be buried at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.

There are now four surviving Navajo Code Talkers.


Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.
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