Code Talker Arthur J. Hubbard dies at age 102

First Native American Arizona legislator passes away Feb. 7

Arthur J. Hubbard Sr. (in wheelchair), a Navajo former state senator, attends a news conference at which lawmakers discussed plans to honor Native Americans who have served in the Arizona State Legislature. Photo/Beth Easterbrook

Arthur J. Hubbard Sr. (in wheelchair), a Navajo former state senator, attends a news conference at which lawmakers discussed plans to honor Native Americans who have served in the Arizona State Legislature. Photo/Beth Easterbrook

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - Arthur J. Hubbard, Sr., former Arizona State Senator and Navajo Code Talker, passed away Feb. 7 at the age of 102.

Hubbard was born Jan. 23, 1912 in Topawa, Ariz. located on the Tohono O'odham Nation. He later enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps and trained hundreds of men to transmit coded messages using the Navajo language during WWII.

In 1972, he became the first Native American elected to the Arizona legislature, serving as a state senator for 12 years. He is recognized for his contributions in areas such as welfare, education and healthcare. He served as a water rights advisor to the Tohono O'odham Nation, a Navajo culture and language instructor at Arizona State University and played an instrumental role in establishing Diné College, the first college established within the Navajo Nation.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly ordered flags on the Navajo Nation to be flown at half-staff and issued a proclamation honoring Hubbard.

"The Navajo Code Talkers are living treasures of the Navajo Nation. With the passing of Arthur Hubbard, Sr., we have lost a true American hero. The Nation offers our heartfelt condolences to the family during this time," Shelly said.

Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize extended his heartfelt condolences to Hubbard's family.

"Our Nation and Diné citizens were truly blessed to have had such a highly respected and distinguished warrior on our side that fought for our Nation, both as a Navajo Code Talker and as a state leader," Naize said. "We will always honor and cherish his sacrifices to make our Nation stronger."

From 1942 to 1945, more than 400 Navajo Code Talkers from the U.S. Marine Corps were trained as radiomen for service in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Because the Navajo language was not a written language and not many people other than Navajos could speak it, it became an unbreakable code. The code also used word substitution, making it harder to break.

According the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) website, the Navajo recruits began developing the code by taking words from their language and applying them to implements of war. The initial code consisted of 211 vocabulary terms, which expanded to 411 over the course of the war.

In one example on the CIA website, the names of different birds were used to stand for different kinds of planes.

English: fighter plane, Navajo: da-he-tih-hi, translation: hummingbird.

English: dive bomber, Navajo: gini, translation: chicken hawk.

English: observation plane, Navajo: ne-ahs-jah, tranlation: owl.

According to the website, the code talkers developed an alphabet for words not found in the Navajo vocabulary. The first letter of a Navajo word corresponded with one of the 26 letters in the English alphabet. Several different words were chosen to represent the more commonly used letters in order to make the code more secure.

For the letter A: in Navajo: wol-la-chee was ant. Be-la-sana was apple, tse-nihi was axe. All of those Navajo words stood for the letter A.

For the letter D: in Navajo: be was deer, chindi was devil, lha-cha-eh was dog. Again, all of those Navajo words could stand for the letter D.

"Diné bizaad (the Navajo language) saved the world from tyranny and oppression. It is our language that will carry us forward into the next century and beyond," Shelly said. "We thank Arthur J. Hubbard, Sr. for his faithful military service and all other Code Talkers that protected our sovereignty and way of life.

The code talkers' mission was not declassified until 1968 and the enemy was never able to break the code of the Navajo Code Talkers.

In 2001, the original 29 Code Talkers were awarded Gold Congressional Medals and the remaining 225 Navajo Code Talkers received Silver Congressional Medals.

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