Ninety-four-year-old Samuel Tom Holiday, one of the last surviving Navajo Code Talkers who used his native language to employ an unbreakable code during World War II, passed away Monday evening in Ivins, Utah.
Friends and family had traveled to the Southern Utah Veterans Home to be with Holiday in his final days, and Tya Redhouse, Holiday’s granddaughter, confirmed his death to the St. George Daily Spectrum. He had just celebrated his 94th birthday June 2.
Navajo leaders believe fewer than 10 Code Talkers are still alive today.
Holiday was recruited to be apart of the Code Talkers program in World War II, and he entered Marine Corps boot camp in 1943. He was one of 400 code talkers who used the intricate Navajo grammar to develop a code for the U.S. military, which its opponents could not comprehend.
Holiday served with the 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division during the war. He saw action in many parts of the Pacific Theater, including Saipan, Iwo Jima, Tinian and the Marshall Islands. The Marine suffered hearing loss when a mortar exploded near his ear. Despite the injury, he told his family he always felt safe on the battlefield because of a traditional Navajo pouch he wore around his neck that held sacred stones and yellow corn pollen.
After the war, Holiday returned to the Navajo Reservation where he ultimately raised a family and started his own heavy equipment company. Holiday’s work as a Code Talker remained a secret until the program's existence was declassified in 1968. His family did not know much of anything about his work during the war until Holiday began sharing details in the 1980s.
In 1982, President Ronald Reagan awarded the Code Talkers with a Certificate of Recognition and President Bill Clinton gave Holiday a Congressional Silver Medal in 1994. Holiday was also awarded a Purple Heart for his service in World War II.
The Marine veteran ultimately became known for spreading the history of the Code Talkers, and he traveled to numerous veterans’ events where he shared his experiences during the war. He also visited several Utah schools to educate children about the role Navajo Code Talkers played in World War II.
At veterans events, he would wear his medals and don other symbols of his background: turquoise jewelry for the Diné, or Navajo; a red Marine Corps cap; and earth-colored clothing picked to celebrate Navajo heritage.
He also shared his experiences in "Under the Eagle: Samuel Holiday, Navajo Code Talker," a book he co-wrote with Robert S. McPherson. It was published in 2013 by the University of Oklahoma Press.
Holiday will be buried on the Navajo Reservation, in Kayenta, Arizona, next to his wife, Lupita Mae.