Another American hero has passed away according to a Navajo Nation official. Joe Hosteen Kellwood, who was a Navajo code talker and served with the 1st Marine Division during World War II, passed away at age 95. More than 400 Navajo code talkers would use their native language to create a code that the Japanese were never able to break.


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Kellwood was trained at Navajo Code Talker’s School at Camp Elliott in San Diego, California and was the recipient of various medals for his service. According to his obituary, Kellwood was awarded the Congressional Silver Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation, a Combat Action Ribbon, a Naval Unit Commendation, a Good Conduct Award, an American Campaign Medal, an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the WWII Victory Medal.


Kellwood fought on the Pacific front, seeing battles in Cape Gloucester, Peleliu and Okinawa. The Marines tweeted a video of Kellwood singing the Marines’ hymn in Navajo and wrote: “Honor the fallen. Yesterday, one of the last remaining Navajo code talkers passed away at 95 years old.”

During an interview in 1999 when Kellwood was 78, he recollected on leaving Phoenix to join the Marines. He was only 21-years-old when he joined in 1942. He remembered telling his sister, “Da’ahijigaagoo deya,” or “I’m going to war.”


Kellwood did recall a time when a spiritual ritual conflicted with military rules. He had corn pollen, a gift from his uncle who told him to use it during his journey. His uncle called the Pacific Ocean a mother figure for the Navajo people. Kellwood said his uncle told him to stand by the ocean, place the corn pollen in his mouth, and pray to the Holy People.


Kellwood mixed a piece of gum with the corn pollen, chewed it into a ball, and spat it into the ocean. The ritual gave him the confidence he would return safely.

Kellwood was never concerned about heading to war, “I was never scared during battles because I told Mama Water to take care of me,” Kellwood concluded in the 1999 interview. “We had to feel like we were bigger than the enemy in battle. I had my prayer and my chewing gum.”


There are currently less than 20 surviving Navajo code talkers according to The Navajo Times.