Goodbye to a Hero: Navajo Code Talker Keith Little

Code talkers Samuel Tso and Keith Little

Keith Little is at the right in this picture, taken in August 2007. Also in the picture from left are Barbara Spelman, Jennie Slick, Code Talker Samuel Tso and Judy Sutton.

Tempe, AZ   I’m very sad to report that Code Talker Keith Little has passed away at the age of 87.  Mr. Little was the president of the Navajo Code Talkers Association and you can see and hear him speaking on the Code Talker web site (warning: music plays when you go to the site).   He joined the Marines in 1943 and served in the Marshall Islands, Saipan and Iwo Jima.  In order to qualify as a Code Talker, a recruit had to be able to read and write both English and Navajo, a rare skill even today.  Although the code was based on the Navajo language, it was refined with cyphers so that not even a person who understood Navajo would be able to decode it.   The code was never broken. 

Keith Little became a wonderful and articulate spokesman for his fellow Code Talkers and especially worked to communicate to young people the need to strive for excellence and to answer the call of duty.  He was proud of the Navajo culture and traditions, believing that they are a firm foundation for generations to come as they were for him as a young man going to war.  

It might seem weaving has very little to do with the Code Talkers, but weaving is a large part of the way of life that Keith Little went to war to protect.  There is a Code Talker mural by Be Sargent in Gallup that depicts these brave men in present and past, framed within the Four Sacred Mountains and  the familiar rhythms of life in their homeland.  You can see it in a panorama below.  There’s a weaver teaching the craft to her grandchildren in the left hand corner.  The inscription in Navajo reads “Niha áłchíní nołinígíí Diné bizaad bee ałdasiibaa yéę nihaa doolyoół.  Éí ‘akót’éego ha’oodzil Dinék eh yáti éí bee ách’ąąh neelyéego hinii’ná.”   To you, our children, we bring home the Navajo Code.  It is our way of saying speak Navajo and defend our way of life.

It is this way of life that Keith Little defended until yesterday evening.  Nizhónígo naniná doo, Mr. Little.  May you walk in beauty. 

Code Talker Panorama

The Code Talker Mural in Gallup, NM. Click on the picture to see a larger image.

Hagoshíí (so long for now)

Mary Walker

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