LYMAN — World War II veteran and code talker Samuel T. Holiday visited the Bridger Valley Wednesday-Thursday, May 10-11, to share some of his story. His visit was arranged by Lyman Middle School students Delaina (eighth grade) and Gracee Becenti (fifth grade), who are also of Holiday’s Navajo tribe.
Thursday’s schedule included two visits to Lyman High School — one in the morning for students and a bigger presentation for the community in the evening — and a visit to the Mountain View senior center.
Rhonda Honey Duvall assisted with the presentation, starting it off with the national anthem in Navajo, sharing a powwow song, demonstrating the traditional greeting and teaching the audience how to say “hello” in Navaho (yah’teh).
The main presentation began shortly after.
WWII code talkers included members of the Navajo Indian tribe recruited by the U.S. Marines. Navajo is a complex and an unwritten language, as well as a language then spoken only in the tribes (mostly located in Arizona and Utah). It is extraordinarily difficult to learn, spoken by few people, and it became an unbreakable code in the conflicts with the Japanese.
However, as vital as the Navajo language became to the U.S., Holiday and many of the other code talkers were punished as children for speaking it.
Holiday grew up in a Hogan in Monument Valley, Utah, and learned how to herd sheep. However, after he injured his knee when he was 12 and spent three months in the Tuba City hospital, he was sent away to boarding school, where Delaina said he entered the white man’s world for the first time. During his five years at the school he was taught English and forbidden to practice Navajo religion, tradition and language.
He does not know his exact birthday, but his brother Henry Holiday gave him the date June 2, 1924.
When Holiday was 17, he signed up for the army, and when he was nearly 20, he was recruited into the Marines for WWII and asked to become a code talker. He served from 1943-1945.
There were originally 29 code talkers who were trained and helped to create the code; they remained on as trainers, while later 27 other code talkers were sent to Guadalcanal. Holiday graduated from communication school in 1943, having learned the code based on Navajo words with English definitions and the mnemonic alphabet.
While in the Marines, Holiday was part of the Pacific campaign against Japan, including in places like Iwo Jima. The work was grueling. Delaina, who read some of Holiday’s history aloud, said code talkers would send and receive messages about military information, locations, ammunitions, medical supplies, food and water and more.
“For 16 hours they were on the radio with only approximately 5-15 minute breaks in between messages,” she said.
The impact and destruction of their work hit Holiday once when he helped to find the location of Japanese hideouts and relayed the information. The ship he sent the information to immediately began bombing the hideouts, and Holiday saw the carnage a few days later.
Holiday wore his uniform to the Bridger Valley events. Delaina explained that every color and item in his uniform has a meaning. The red cap indicates the U.S. Marine Corps; the jewelry represents the Diné; the gold shirt represents corn pollen; the patch indicates the Marine division; the light trousers represent Mother Earth; and the abalone-colored shoes or traditional moccasins represent the sacred mountains.
Holiday’s daughter, who was with him in the Valley, said he is still very active, making furniture, riding horses and doing other things. He is one of the few code talkers remaining.
In honor of Holiday’s service and visit to Lyman High School, the school gave him a shirt and a water bottle, and a woman donated an American flag and a Wyoming flag. Upon receiving the flags, Holiday raised them up for the audience to see and then pulled them close in an embrace. The school and students also gave him other gifts, as well as standing ovations.
At the evening event, they had a small concert with dancing, singing and other events.
Holiday also has a book available for purchase on Amazon — “Under the Eagle.” It is described there as “the only book-length oral history of a Navajo code talker in which the narrator relates his experience in his own voice and words.”