Armigo, Louis - A modest hero 7-07

Navajo code talker during WWII and a popular teacher at Fullerton High.

By Robin Hinch
The Orange County Register

Louis Armijo didn’t talk a lot about this amazing story. About being born without a name, about how he finally got one or about how admired and well-respected his name remains today. Louis (pronounced Louie and sometimes Luis) was a modest man, a popular Fullerton High School teacher and a World War II veteran who kept personal things pretty close to the vest.

But over time, his past became a vivid part of his present, and people came to know him for the war hero he really was – one of the World War II “code talkers” who broadcast secret messages in a Navajo code that was undecipherable to the Japanese. Navajo, at that time, was still an unwritten language.

He was 82 when he passed away June 28 of complications of heart failure and pneumonia.

Born in San Antonio, N.M, he grew up on a Navajo reservation, the son of a Spanish-Basque mother and an Apache father. As a child, he spoke English, Navajo, Apache, Spanish and French.

His grandfather said he couldn’t have a name until he did something to deserve it. To that end, he took the boy hunting when Louis was 10, and they tracked down and shot a deer.

“My first lesson,” Louis told the Register in 2000, “was to cut its throat.” Next, he had to fill a small cup and drink the blood. “It was hot and gooey,” he said, “but I drank it.”

His grandfather gave him the name Chimajo, which means “fast runner,” but Louis went by his American name for most of his life.

Still proud of being able to complete the ritual, he kept the deer’s hooves in a cedar chest.

He joined the Army Air Corps after high school and hoped to be a fighter pilot, but was sent, instead, to the South Pacific island of Tinian, where he was one of the air traffic controllers and a code talker for the maneuvers of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It was Louis who helped guide the bomber home after dropping its bomb in 1945.

For the next 23 years, the code talkers were forbidden by the government to talk of their roles in the war and even after that time, Louis didn’t like to discuss it.

Later, however, he was proud of being featured in the book, “The Greatest Generation,” by newsman Tom Brokaw, and became alocal celebrity on the speakers circuit.

Published in 1998, the book is a literary homage to everyday American heroes and herolines who came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America.

Louis married Ella Baca right after the war. After a brief stint working in a copper mine, he realixed he wanted something better, so he went to Western New Mexico University on the GI Bill and earned degrees in business, math , administration and counseling, plus a doctorate of humane letters.

They moved to Fullerton in 1952, and he spent the next 37 years at Fullerton High School as a teacher, counselor and administrator.

Although he had gone by Louis for years, it wasn’t until he was 40, needed a passport and sent for his birth certificate that he learned he was officially nameless. It read: “Unnamed Male Armijo.” So he had to get it legally changed.

His later years were dogged by health problems (quadruple heart-bypass surgery, then a heart transplant), but Louis played an occasional game of golf, motored in his electric scooter to Catholic Mass most days and enjoyed coffee and doughnuts with friends.

And he assembled thick scrapbooks on World War II so his grandchildren could fully appreciate those who’d fought for the freedom they were enjoying.

Interviewed for this story: Daughter, Vicki; son, Bill; friends, Jan Moorehead, John Collins

Contact the writer:
714-736-6082 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.