Navajo Nation officials announced on Tuesday the passing of Joe Hosteen Kellwood, who died Monday at the age of 95 at Phoenix Veterans Hospital.
Born in Steamboat Canyon, Arizona on August 20, 1921, Kellwood served in the 1st Marine Division during World War II, in the Pacific theater, as a Navajo Code Talker.
The group of more than 300 Navajo men transmitted coded messages in their native language, which was impossible for Japanese combatants to break.
Today, there are less than 20 of these veterans left.
‘Kellwood served with distinction in the 1st Marine Division as a Navajo code talker, ultimately helping lead the Allied forces to victory in WWII,’ Arizona Gov Doug Ducey said in a written statement. ‘Today, as Arizonans celebrate the life of this amazing man, let us pray for his family, his friends, and the Navajo Nation. And let us never forget the countless contributions that code talkers have made to our state and our country.’
He did not know that he would be picked out from the masses of enlisted men to use his native language to code messages, since the project was top secret. In fact, when Kellwood was attending school growing up, he was often disciplined for using his mother tongue instead of English in class.
Kellwood and other native Navajo speakers were trained at the Navajo Code Talker’s School at Camp Elliott in San Diego, California. At training camp, Kellwood learned Morse code, radio and Navajo codes to relay messages on the battlefield.
‘I studied on my own at night,’ he said about the training, in a Veterans History Project Interview. ‘You had to memorize all the words at the time, 211 words. They were long words. I spelled it. I learned.’
Using the Navajo language in their coding helped protect American messages from the Japanese. The Japanese couldn’t break it because the syntax and tonal qualities of the language are almost impossible for a non-Navajo to learn. Plus, it has no written form.
After the war, the Japanese chief of intelligence admitted that they had never been able to crack the code used by the Marines and the Navy. The 2002 film Windtalkers, starring Nicholas Cage, was about the program.
Kellwood served until the end of the war in 1945, participating in the battles of Cape Gloucester, Peleliu and Okinawa.
After the war, he returned to Arizona and settled down in the town of Sunnyslope.
Kellwood died just three days after his 101-year-old brother Roy Kellwood, a veteran who served in Europe, and the two will be buried at the same time on Thursday at the National Memorial Cemetary of Arizona.
‘We all have wonderful memories of seeing his face light up when we walked into the room,’ Kellwood’s obituary reads. ‘He loved to tell funny stories, laugh out loud and say “by golly.”‘
During his military career, Kellwood received the Congressional Silver Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation, the Combat Action Ribbon, a Naval Unit Commendation, Good Conduct, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the WWII Victory Medal.
Written for the Associated Press The Daily Mail ~ September 6, 2016.
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