Speaking the language of the wind
Jaymon Yazzie, 45, comes from a legacy of heroism — but he didn’t learn the details until about 12 years ago.
His great-uncle John Goodluck formed part of an elite band of Native Americans who developed a code from the Navajo language during World War II which the Japanese were never able to break.
The information remained classified until 1969.
“They were sworn to secrecy,” Yazzie said. “They stayed loyal to their oath.”
Beyond the vow of secrecy, however, Yazzie said the code talkers were reluctant to draw attention to their contribution.
“We used to have our relatives come over, my grandfolks and their siblings, but it wasn’t in their nature to talk about it,” he explained. “It wasn’t like we’d gather around Grandpa and hear stories. They’re more reserved.”
It wasn’t until the 1990 book “Warriors: Navajo Code Talkers” that Yazzie learned the details of their work and discovered that a rodeo announcer he’d known for years had also served.
“You would have never know he was a code talker,” Yazzie said. “He never talked about it.”
The veil of silence was lifted when “Windtalkers,” a movie about the code warriors, hit the silver screen Friday.
Yazzie and his wife, Lori, planned to watch it opening night.
“I can’t wait to see it,” he said. “It’s delayed recognition. It’s deserving.”
Growing up on a reservation in Lupton, Ariz., Yazzie’s parents spoke Navajo at home and English outside. His grandparents only spoke their native tongue.
“It’s a hard language to learn, I guess,” he said. “We just grew up learning it.”
Although he rarely uses the language, except when talking to family back home or “grumbling around the house,” Yazzie said it is important he knows how to speak it.
“It’s part of who we are,” he said. “We have, in our culture, an attachment to the land we show with ceremonies. In order to do a lot of the ceremonial things, it’s all in Navajo.”
It’s a heritage he’s proud of — although marked by suffering.
The Navajo history is scarred by the “Long Walk” in 1864 when Western legend Kit Carson forced nearly 8,000 people to walk 300 miles from Arizona to Fort Sumner, N.M.
They remained in the camp where about 3,000 died from starvation and disease until 1868, when they were released and negotiated a treaty establishing themselves as a sovereign nation.
Old feuds with the federal government were ignored, however, when the Japanese attacked domestic soil.
“Pearl Harbor put fear into everybody’s life,” Yazzie said. “They were loyal to defending their own homeland. They were doing their part.”
Yazzie’s father, Jackie Yazzie, enlisted and fought in Europe while Goodluck served as a code talker.
Yazzie moved to Carson City nearly three years ago to marry Lori, 41, whose great-uncle served as a Choctaw code talker in World War I. The two met at a Gathering of Nations Pow-Wow Albuquerque, N.M.
Yazzie works as a computer programmer for the state.