Cpl. Nana Dannsa-Appiah, Marine Corps News in Native Currents. Discussion »
MARINE CORPS SUPPORT FACILITY NEW ORLEANS What makes Sgt. Delshayne John stand out from his fellow Marines at Marine Corps Support Facility New Orleans isn't the fact that he rose through the ranks to be meritoriously promoted to sergeant in less than three years. It isn't that he is only on his first tour and already works directly for a three star general. It isn't that the 21 year old, 175 pounds packed into a lean 6 foot 2 inch frame, is an experienced rodeo rider, basketball and football player, wrestler and cross country virtuoso.
What makes John different is his Native American heritage. His two great granduncles or as he refers to them, grandfathers, Leonard Begay and Jimmie M. Begay, served as Navajo code talkers during World War II.
John, who speaks fluent Navajo, serves as a communications Marine and credits his decision to serve in the military to his upbringing on the Navajo reservation in Fort Defiance, Arizona, and the influence of one specific grandfather, Jimmie M. Begay.
“My dad left when I was three and he (Jimmie M. Begay) has always been there for me so he has been the father figure in my life,”
Traditional Navajo houses made of wooden poles, tree bark and mud, called hogans, and trailers sparsely populated the valley overlooked by mountains. There were no amusement parks or shopping malls, just families engaged in their daily chores and livestock roaming the plains.
In one trailer, John, his three younger brothers and his sister lived with their mother no electricity and no running water. His grandfather and grandmother lived in the next house down the road.
In the absence of John's father, Begay took it upon himself to groom John into a respectable young man, filled with the Navajo traditional values and able to take care of his mom and siblings as the man of the house.
John described his grandfather as very stern. Granddad's rules: you don't sleep in, you rise before the sun, you run towards the east every morning, pray and come back.
“You can't be lazy,”
he said the old veteran used to insist.
“There is always something to do.”
Even after John completed his chores, sitting back and relaxing in the house wasn't an option. Begay pushed him to go outside and play with his siblings or find something productive to do.
Begay trained his grandson to do many things, from fixing cars to taming horses.
John remembers when he got his first horse. Several wild horses roamed the reservation. The rule was whoever caught them, kept them. As John explained it, the problem was not with catching the horses but taming them. Begay caught a wild horse and domesticated her, and when she had a baby, Begay gave the foal to John.
“He taught me how to do it then he said 'here's your horse, now break it, '”
“I just never felt like I could be bored with him, no matter what we were doing he always had something to teach me,”
The two bonded over chores and many of the reservation activities: hunting, branding cows, feeding the family animals, rodeo, etc
As John grew older and the responsibility of taking care of his younger siblings became greater, so did the stress. He couldn't show any weakness or emotional vulnerability as the man of the house not to his younger brothers and sister but he knew he could always confide in his grandfather.
“We got pretty good about reading each other,”
“Anytime I needed somebody to talk to, he was always there for me so he was like my shoulder to lean on.”
In 1942, the Marine Corps began recruiting and training Navajos for code talking because they spoke an unwritten language, unintelligible to anyone except another Navajo. Navajo Marines developed and memorized codes which, it is believed, the Japanese never cracked. They became America's answer to the Japanese interception and decryption of indispensable messages during World War II.
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posted September 24, 2013 10:20 am edt