WWII Navajo code talker Joe Morris dies at 85

Loma Linda, California (AP) July 2011

Navajo code talker Joe Morris, one of more than 400 Native Americans who used the language of their ancestors to relay secret battlefield orders during World War II, has died. He was 85.

The longtime resident of the Mojave Desert community of Daggett died Sunday after a stroke at the Veterans Administration Loma Linda Healthcare System, spokesman Dave Allen said.

Navajo code talkers were young Navajo men who used their language to successfully transmit secret communications in every major engagement in the Pacific theater, including Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima.

Morris kept secret what he did during his Marine Corps service until President Ronald Reagan declassified the role of the code talkers in 1982. Morris then began giving presentations to schools and colleges.

The Navajo dialect never left the Southwest United States and the language was never written down. The Japanese had no way of learning it, and the complicated nature of the language made it difficult for others to learn.

Twenty-nine original code talkers were recruited to train another 400 Navajo to work as communicators.

Morris was 17 when he joined the Marines, his daughter Colleen Anderson tells the Victorville Daily Press. He was quite modest about his role in the war and didn’t consider himself a hero, she said.

“He just wasn’t that kind of person. He would say that he didn’t do it alone. He would always include (the other code talkers) in presentations,” Anderson said.

Besides his daughter, Morris is survived by his wife of 61 years, Charlotte, and sons Joe Jr. and Elliot.

A funeral was scheduled for Monday at East Hills Unity Church in Riverside, followed by burial at Riverside National Cemetery.