Navajo Nation mourns loss of two Code Talkers

Ernest Yazhe and Alfred James Peaches laid to rest in Utah and Arizona

A member of the United States Marine Corps Honor Guard presents the flag to the daughter of Navajo Code Talker Ernest Yazhe. Submitted photo

A member of the United States Marine Corps Honor Guard presents the flag to the daughter of Navajo Code Talker Ernest Yazhe. Submitted photo

BLUFFDALE, Utah - WWII veteran and Navajo Code Talker Ernest Yazhe was laid to rest with family, friends and fellow Marines in attendance Jan. 19 at Utah Veterans Memorial Park. Flags were flown at half-staff Jan. 19-22. He died Jan. 12.

Yazhe served in the Marines Corps from 1942-1946 and was part of the elite group of Navajo Code Talkers, who transmitted battlefield messages in an unbreakable radio code based on Dine' bizaad. Yazhe was stationed and trained as a Code Talker in New Caledonia and fought as a Code Talker in both Guam and Okinawa. He was honorably discharged in 1946. Yazhe passed away from renal failure at a hospice in Holladay, Utah. He was 92 years old.

In a statement Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez said the Navajo Code Talkers are among the greatest generation of American citizens who put their lives on the line during WWII in defense of freedom and democracy.

"The Navajo language was the secret weapon that brought victory to the Allied Forces and ended the war in the Pacific," he said.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said it is always a great loss when a Navajo Code Talkers passes away.

"Mr. Yazhe was honored and revered not only by our Navajo people but also honored and recognized on a national level," he said. "Our world as it exists today would not be the same had it not been for our Code Talkers and for this we will forever be grateful."

During the service Nez said that Yazhe was among the greatest generation of soldiers who served during World War II.

"He was a Navajo Code Talker," Nez said. "Our heroes are passing and we must take the time to honor and preserve their legacy. We need to share their heroic deeds with our children and our grandchildren."

Begaye also sent his condolences to the Yazhe family for the loss of a Navajo family man and hero.

"It is with a heavy heart that I learned about the passing of Ernest Yazhe, a Navajo Code Talker and a treasure to the Nation," he said. "If it were not for our Navajo Code Talkers, our freedom as we know it today would be severely impacted. The Navajo Nation and the greater United States owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Code Talkers such as Ernest Yazhe. His service will not be forgotten."

Nez presented a proclamation on behalf of the Office of the President and Vice President honoring Yazhe to his daughter, Melissa Yazhe, who accepted the plaque for her family.

During the services, Yazhe was remembered as a humble and caring man whose life was fulfilled by simple essentials like raising his family, tending to livestock and taking care of his homestead.

Ruth Burton provided the prelude to the funeral services and told people gathered that Yazhe never wanted to have great attention focused on him. He enjoyed the simplicity of his life, she said.

Yazhe's grandson Donovan Baldwin recalled memories he had of time spent with his grandfather. Baldwin portrayed him as a gentle person who would often wake his grandchildren by placing their favorite kittens next to the kids' sleeping bodies.

Baldwin's memories also included a time when he and his siblings had gotten a set of toy walkie-talkies. He said that Yazhe taught them some of the codes he used in World War II. He told his grandchildren that the word for artillery tanks was 'metal turtle'.

"Today, we celebrate the life of Ernest Yazhe, a humble man who always worked hard. Let us also remember his legacy during this time," Nez said when he presented the proclamation to the family. "Thank you for your service and bravery, Ernest Yazhe. Your memory will continue to live on in the annals of American history."

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - The Navajo Nation mourned the loss of Navajo Code Talker Alfred James Peaches, who passed away Jan. 16 at Flagstaff Medical Center. Flags were flown at half-staff from sunrise Jan. 23.

Peaches passed away in the same week as Ernest Yazhe, another Navajo Code Talker who passed away Jan. 12.

"The Navajo people have lost another warrior who defended freedom and the American way of life during World War II," said Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said. "Navajo Code Talker Alfred Peaches was a role model and hero to our great Navajo Nation. We unite in prayer and mourning for his family and friends."

Vice President Jonathan Nez said the passing of another Navajo Code Talker is a reminder to visit and honor the legacy of those who still carry the secret knowledge that ended the war in the Pacific Theater.

"We honor the legacy of our Navajo Code Talkers through the revitalization of our Navajo language, Dine' bizaad, which not only ended the war, but demonstrated to the world and the strength and power of the Navajo language," Nez said.

Peaches attained the rank of corporal during his service in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served from November 1943 to May 1946 with the 29th Marines, 6th Marine Division.

He was a combat veteran of the battles of Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands, Saipan, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and the occupation of China. Peaches also served his country again during the Korean War, where he was honorably discharged.

Peaches is Bitter Water Clan, born for White Corn Clan. His maternal grandfather's clan is Water Edge Clan and his paternal grandfather is Zuni.

His sons, Vernon and Albert, preceded Peaches in death.

Wife Jeanette Hillis Peaches, daughters Doris Ross, Terri Peaches, sons Glenn and Nathanial Peaches, five grandchildren and one great grandchild survive him.

A memorial service took place Jan. 23 at Leupp First Presbyterian Church. The Ira H. Hayes American Legion Post 84 from the Gila River Indian Community in Sacaton, Arizona provided the color guard and the Navajo Hopi Honor Riders escorted Peaches.

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