TUBA CITY, Ariz. - WWII veteran and Navajo Code Talker Dan Akee often sits in the shade of a tree in a faded chair, dusty from the red dirt in his yard. He has a view of the trailer that he and his wife, Margaret, live in now.
He also has a view of the house he built in the 1960s, which is in dire need of repair and renovation and is unlivable as it stands now.
But Akee's one wish on his birthday, Nov. 11, which was also Veterans Day, was to move back into the house he considers his home for the remainder of his life. The house where he and his wife raised 12 children, three kids to a room.
Akee is one of 12 Navajo Code Talkers still alive in the United States. He was one of more than 44,000 Native Americans who served in the U.S. military and one of the 450 Navajo Code Talkers. He is hard of hearing and it is difficult to understand him when he speaks. But his son, Danny, communicates for him and takes care of Akee, along with other relatives.
"That's where he sits during the day," Danny said, gesturing to the chair under the tree. "He's looking at his house. They were planning to fix the trailer. Danny's father said, 'I don't want that fixed, I want my house fixed. I'm not comfortable inside the double-wide trailer. I've got all my memories, all my thoughts in the house, my kids when you were small, my grandkids. Son, I pray to God every day that some money will come in.'"
Danny would rebuild the house for him if he could. He recently had a stroke that makes it so he is unable to do anything that requires heavy lifting.
What has only been a wish may become reality though, with help from Red Feather Development Group, a nonprofit with offices in Flagstaff, Arizona and Bozeman, Montana, which partners with Native American communities to develop and implement sustainable solutions to the housing needs in their communities. Red Feather is trying to raise $70,000 in donations and in-kind materials and labor to renovate Akee's home by Christmas or early January 2016.
The home needs to be fully accessible because Akee uses a wheelchair. Red Feather anticipates four phases to restore the home, which includes a complete inside renovation: replacing the roof, windows, exterior doors, electric heat, insulation, a complete bathroom overhaul, drywall, wheelchair access ramp, flooring, painting the exterior and interior, cabinets, plumbing, appliances, gutters and a porch.
Mark Hall, executive director of Red Feather, reached out to organizations, government agencies and foundations that he thought would already have programs set up to help people like Akee. But Akee was eligible for only one program and that program would have taken 10 to 12 months just to process the application.
"We said that's too long," Hall said, adding that the next thing was to try and raise the money themselves. "That's what we've started to do."
Red Feather decided to start the project, even if they needed to write the checks themselves. Once they got going, Hall said they started looking around for who else could help from the public.
"It's been overwhelming the amount of support we have gotten from the public sector," Hall said. "The government and private foundation, we just couldn't find anything. You can tell people care. Individuals care. Even companies are volunteering materials and donating materials. There's no question in my mind that the project is going to happen."
Hall said it is obvious how much care and thought went into the original building, even though at the moment the house is completely gutted with only the bare bones of the house still standing. The floor plan is not typical of the 1960s. It has been cleaned out, with help from volunteers and is ready for renovation.
"There's more than just a pile of building materials assembled to shelter someone from the elements," Hall said. "There's family in there."
Danny agrees. He said the reason Akee wants to live in that house is because all of his memories, all of his feelings are in the house.
The volunteers who helped to clean out the house included the Tuba City chapter president and the president and vice president of the Navajo Nation, something that moved theAkee family.
"It was awesome," Danny said. "I cried that day. Seeing Mr. Russell pulling that window out. Russell was climbing the ladder... I shook his hand and said, 'You're a leader. You two are leaders. Helping somebody that won the war. You have the heart to come over here all the way from Shiprock just to be here."
Akee watched from outside and looked from the window.
"The president's helping with my house," he said, adding in Navajo. "In the Navajo way, that's the way to do it."
"It was a really emotional feeling," Danny said.
Eunice Begay, veteran service officer with the Western Agency of Navajo Veterans Affairs, said Akee has dreamed of having his house rebuilt for years.
"His house, not somebody else's house," Begay said. "He wants to live out the rest of his life in that house, with his wife. It is very, very important to him."
She said Akee is one of the Navajo Nation's Code Talkers and it is because of him that the country was able to keep its freedom.
"I think it is important that the public at least assist our office and Red Feather in helping him move back," Begay said. "That's really not much. It's very little."
Hall would like the public to help support the project with the knowledge that even if Red Feather receives more money than they need there is a whole group of thousands of other veterans in the same situation. The excess money will go toward helping those veterans - Akee's family supports that idea. Red Feather wants to use Akee's situation to advocate for other veterans' needs, many who are in the same situation.
"Part of the reason that Red Feather is interested in this project is to bring awareness, not just to Mr. Akee's problem but that this problem exists," Hall said. "I mean, if one of the most famous of all veterans is in this situation, what about all the other veterans who are less famous. Who's their advocate?"
Donate directly at: www.redfeather.org
Go to Indigogo and contribute to the Dan Akee "Going Home" crowdfunder at this generosity.com link
Call Red Feather Development Group in Flagstaff, Arizona at (928) 440-5119 to inquire about in-kind donations.