Notable Deaths ›

Joe Vandever Sr. (1923 – 2020), one of the last living WWII Navajo code talkers

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Vandever’s death reportedly leaves just four Navajo code talkers still living

Joe Vandever Sr. was one of the Navajo code talkers who transmitted top secret messages during World War II using Native American languages. A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Vandever was among about 400 to 500 code talkers whose expertise in little-known languages has been credited with making the victory at Iwo Jima possible, among other accomplishments. Vandever’s death reportedly leaves just four Navajo code talkers still living. Vandever also served in combat in World War II, fighting in the Pacific.

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Died: January 31, 2020 (Who else died on January 31?)

Details of death: Died in Haystack, New Mexico at the age of 96.


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Later life: Vandever went home to New Mexico after the war, where he worked for an oil company and was a uranium prospector until his retirement. He also farmed sheep on his family’s land.

Notable quote: “Nobody ever broke the code. Our language is powerful.” —from a 2012 interview

What people said about him: “The Navajo people have lost another great warrior who sacrificed more than we’ll ever know to defend our country. On behalf of the Navajo Nation, we offer our prayers and heartfelt condolences to his wife, children, and many other loved ones” —Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez

“I am forever grateful to the Navajo Code Talkers for their incredible service to the nation, and I know all New Mexicans share that gratitude with me. My thoughts and prayers are with Joe Vandever’s family — may he rest in peace.” —New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham

Full obituary: Santa Fe New Mexican

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