Legendary Navajo Code Talker to deliver lecture Nov. 17

by Megan Connelly

Marine Corps veteran Merril Sandoval, one of the legendary Navajo Code Talkers, will deliver a talk on the role of Native Americans in helping to win World War II at 7 p.m.Wednesday (Nov. 17) in the ballroom of the Lafortune Student Center at the University of Notre Dame.

The talk, part of the fine arts lecture series hosted by Multicultural Student Programs and Services, is free and open to the public.

Sandoval, who served with the 2nd and 5th Marine Divisions in World War II, helped to construct what is perhaps the only unbroken military code in history. Navajo code, a self-contained communication system, was a major weapon in the Pacific Theater in World War II. When U.S. forces found their code system was repeatedly broken by the Japanese, officials began searching for another way to communicate classified information. Navajo speakers, who use a complex syntax and intonation in a language that has no alphabet or symbols, were recruited, and the code never was broken.

Born in 1925, Sandoval was raised on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. He enlisted with the Marines in 1943 and served in the Hawaiian Islands, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and the occupation of Japan. Discharged from the Marines in 1946 as a corporal, Sandoval returned to complete his high school education. After graduation, he trained as a machinist at the Haskell Indian Vocational School in Lawrence, Kan., and went on to work as a machinist for more than 15 years in Kansas City and Phoenix. In 1964, Sandoval returned to the Navajo reservation in New Mexico and worked for the Navajo Tribal Police Department, for D.N.A. Legal Services, a non-profit law firm, and as a private tribal advocate and interpreter for the tribal legal courts. He has since retired to Arizona with his family.

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