A fragile and worn Navajo man sat and listened to the sound of traditional native drummers Thursday night. This man is Sgt. Allen Dale June, one of the 29 original Navajo code talkers during World War II.
June, now 85, is the oldest of 13 children and worked at a windmill on the Navajo reservation in Kaibeto “Antelope Springs,” Ariz. He joined the United States Marine Corps in 1942.
He was only 16 at the time, but said he was 19 in order to serve. Because he was the only one of the original code talkers who had a high school education, he was automatically given a higher rank.
June served in the Pacific Corridor in Division One, where all 29 men developed the code – which consisted of 200 Navajo words substituted for common military words and phrases. It was the main mode of code communication and was unwritten and unknown by the Germans and Japanese.
He worked as a code talker on the Battleship McKinley to redirect the firing line depending on where the Japanese were. June was in all seven major battles in the Pacific Corridor and crossed the equator eight times.
The Navajo code was never broken.
But June doesn’t speak much English these days, so his wife Virginia speaks on his behalf.
“We feel honored that people continue to recognize the contributions my husband made to the freedom this country enjoys,” she said. “If we know the country is safe, our Navajo nation is safe.”
After three and a half years in the service, June was honorably discharged and was given a Congressional Gold Medal along with the other original 29 code talkers.
He went on to receive a master’s in business management and start a family. In all these years, June has remained tight-lipped about his experiences during the war, but takes pride in honoring his past at various events.
“He went on just living his life and he doesn’t talk about (his experiences during the war),” Virginia said.
Wearing his USMC cover adorned with pins, June and his wife were special guests at the opening of the exhibition at the Duhesa, “one who appreciates beauty,” Lounge. The event was sponsored by Native American Student Services and served as a conclusion for Native American Awareness Month.
Ty Smith, director of NASS, said the exhibit is a combination of traditional and contemporary work by living artists who continue to practice their talent that has been passed down through the generations.
“The exhibit is important to us because it’s a way of showing our native culture on campus with those who may not be familiar with it,” he said.
NASS worked in collaboration with Native American Student Association and the LSC Arts Program to bring in three of the artists and set of the displays for their work.
“We are trying to keep current artists displayed here-work that is still being created because people are still making artwork,” said Stan Scott, the graduate assistant for the LSC Arts Program.
The exhibit began with an opening reception and a traditional Navajo prayer given in the native language by Alex Benally, one of the exhibiting artists. The five members of the Ram Nation Drum Group also played.
Two of the three artists invited were in attendance. Benally, who resides in Farmington, N.M., creates traditional style silver jewelry. He started in junior high because of his great uncle who was also a silversmith and allowed Benally to help with his work. He has been creating these pieces for almost 30 years and is also a medicine man in his hometown.
Troy Sice, who is from the Zuni reservation in Albuquerque, specializes in fetish carvings, using mainly elk antler. He comes from a family of artists and dedicates his work to his grandfather and two uncles, all of whom have past. He is still trying to get his name out there and hopes to open a gallery of his own.
People walked in and out of the exhibit throughout the opening reception, talking to artists and admiring the various pieces now on display.
Julie Metzger, a junior natural resources major, attended this exhibit last year and wanted to come back and support NASS and Native American Awareness Month next year.
“This exhibit helps to raise awareness about issues that are affecting their community and also helps promote understanding about their culture.”
Staff writer Stephanie Gerlach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.