George Willie was met by a standing ovation at this intimate reception as he got ready to share a rare piece of history at the Oakwood Trails Lodge in Abilene.
Willie is one of 35 Navajo code talkers still living. Code talking originated as a way to battle the Japanese forces in World War II. The code was based on elements of nature.
Willie shared his experiences in English and Navajo languages. Willie's daughter Annabelle Smallcanyon does most of the talking on her father's behalf because of his frail memory.
"I slowly got him into giving me some reasons, some of the things that he's done," Smallcanyon said. "I didn't get them all at one time. We'd be on the road and then he would just talk about his military times and so I usually just keep a notebook and a pencil and whenever he talks about it I would just jot them down."
Smallcanyon shared a timeline of her father's journey to code talking. In 1941, the Marine Corps began using code based on Navajo language. In May 1942, the first Navajo recruits developed 236 terms and that expanded into 400 military terms. In September 1942, the Navajo Code talker program was established in Camp Pendleton. From 1942-1946, every code talker participated in every assault. In 2001, Willie and other code talkers were presented with congressional medals from former President Bush.
"He is a walking code," Smallcanyon said. "He didn't have any paper or pencil with him so he had to memorize everything."
People sat on the edge of their seats as Smallcanyon recapped her father's time in Japan. Along with the presentation, there were native Navajo performances.
Smallcanyon said she's proud to be apart of such rich history.
"We were told as being children of Navajo Code talkers that we are the ambassadors for them," Smallcanyon said. "When they decease, when they pass on, we have to carry their message. We have to carry on their story and that's real important to me."
Willie was honorably discharged from the Marines in 1946. In 1982, former President Ronald Reagan made August 14, "National Code Talker Day."