Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Condition. Discussion »
Levi Rickert with Navajo Code Talker Samuel Sandoval
When the movie "Wind Talkers," a movie about the Navajo Code Talkers, was still running in theaters, my daughter, Monica, told me she was never more proud to be an American Indian, as she was while watching the movie. She felt proud to be part of something - the grandness of just being Indian. She felt proud of what the Navajo Code Talkers contributed to the United States six decades prior to her time. I understood her pride, because I have the same admiration for the Navajo Code Talkers and their contributions to American history.
Last week, I had the honor to interview and cover Navajo Code Talker Samuel F. Sandoval while he was in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. At eighty-eight, he needed the assistance of a wheelchair and cane. Yet, his mind was quick and sharp. He is a humble man who said his heroes are the 13 Navajo Code Talkers who died in action during World War II.
During my interview, he and I connected and laughed over some old-fashioned "Indian humor" he used throughout the interview. He was wise, reflective and funny. He spoke with a twinkle in his eye.
His humor came through when I inquired about the accuracy of the movie "Wind Talkers": "I told my wife I never saw any Indian wearing moccasins in battle like I did in the movie. I told her look at that: that did not happen."
The Native News Network works hard on reporting on issues and concerns within the American Indian community. Given the harsh socio-economic situations that still confront American Indians in the United States, some stories are very difficult to research and write about, such as violence against Native women or the high rates of suicide among Native youth. While this is true, interviewing and covering Mr. Sandoval was a personally enriching experience and a real treat for me.
Friday night, after the Veterans Day parade, as the convertible Mr. Sandoval rode in raised its top and his driver drove him away from the conclusion of the parade route to take him and his wife back to his hotel. Here was Mr. Sandoval braving a 34 degree temperature Michigan evening in November, representing greatness. His small figure in the darkness did not do justice to just how great he is.
I watched in the darkness and thought about what the vast history of what he, along with hundreds of other Navajo Code Talkers - many of them now belonging to eternity - did for our country.
The Navajo Code Talkers helped to save this country with their wartime heroics, using a language that many of them were forbidden to speak and were beaten when spoken as children, but were encouraged to use to confuse the war enemy. We can be glad it was not completely beat out of them as was the mission of their teachers when they were students in boarding schools. The Navajo code has never been broken.
Having spent a short time with one Code Talker, I can agree with my daughter about being proud to be an American Indian.
updated 9:20 am est; posted November 14, 2011 6:30 am est
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