Native Village Youth and Education News
November, 2009   Volume 1

Navajo Code Talker Willard V. Oliver passes on

Condensed by Native Village

Arizona: Navajo Code Talker Willard Varnell Oliver, 88, of Lukachukai, Ariz. has passed away. He had been in declining health for the past two years.

Oliver grew up between Shiprock and Farmington and graduated from the Shiprock Agricultural High School in 1940. In 1943, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in the South Pacific with the 2nd Marine Division. He was honorably discharged on Dec. 11, 1945.

Willard had told his story to his son, Lawrence.  "I had an SCR 300 radio pack strapped to my back along with a carbine semi-automatic over my right shoulder," Oliver said. "While we were trying to get ashore (at Tarawa in 1943), the beach water was completely red with blood.  I kept going down underwater to avoid the machine gun spray but at the same time I had to try and keep the radio dry as much as I can.
In the fall of 1944, Mr. Oliver was wounded during the battle of Saipan.

"As I began moving out of a fox hole, just right then an artillery shell landed right in front of the soldiers nearby, knocking them over," Willard said. "At the same instant, one landed about 10 or 15 feet away from me. Next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground and had to get myself into a nearby fox hole quickly. I guess I was wounded badly."

The explosion damaged Oliver's hearing, and he carried a piece of shrapnel in his shoulder for the rest of his life.  Willard was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Following the battle of Okinawa, Oliver was with the first to arrive at Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945 after the U.S. had dropped the atomic bomb.

"We found that everything was flattened, twisted metal everywhere," he said. "We were told to be very careful as we advanced throughout the area."

Oliver had long been active in the Navajo Code Talkers Association." I am proud to be a code talker," he said. "And I know we counted for something great, and that we fought to maintain our freedom and for our sacred land."

"I did not realize that until the code talkers were recognized that all the victories back during the war came about because of our Diné language," Oliver said. "Sometimes I think about it. Why did the government want to use our language when throughout BIA school we would get our mouth washed out with soap when they caught us speaking Navajo?

In 2001, President George W. Bush awarded Willard and other code talkers the Congressional Gold Medal. Later he was awarded the Congressional Silver Medal.
Willard Oliver's clans were Bit'ahnii (Folded Arms People), born for Kinlichii'nii (Red House People), and his nalis were Todich'ii'nii (Bitter Water) and Naakaii Diné (Mexican Clan).

Following Oliver's death, Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. ordered Navajo Nation flags to be flown at half-staff in Oliver's honor.

From Native Village: Navajo Codetalkers Dictionary

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