Published June 27, 2017
SHIPROCK – Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye joined Navajo Code Talker Sam Sandoval on Wednesday, Jun. 21 at the Phil Thomas Performance Center in Shiprock, New for the Navajo Nation premier of “The Heart of a Warrior”, a documentary exploring Sandoval’s role as Navajo Code Talker.
“Sam Sandoval is a true warrior. We should all be proud of his accomplishments and those of the Navajo Code talkers,” said President Begaye. “America would not be the ‘Land of the Free’ if it weren’t for the service and sacrifice of the Navajo Code Talkers. It’s because of them that we are able to enjoy freedom.”
“The Heart of a Warrior” chronicles the life of Sam Sandoval who is originally from Turtle Mountain near Nageezi, N.M. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1943, a year after graduating from Navajo Mission in Farmington, N.M.
Sandoval along with seven young men from Navajo Mission enlisted, joining a group of approximately 60 Navajo men who made up Platoon 297. While at Camp Pendleton, Platoon 297 increased lexicon of the Navajo code.
Sandoval saw action in five combat battles in the South Pacific. He is considered the last remaining Navajo Code Talker who resides in Shiprock, N.M. Of the sixty young Navajo men who originally enlisted, only four remain.
The documentary opens with a reenactment of a young Sandoval walking to the sweat lodge with his grandfather. The lessons he learned from his grandfather he carried throughout his life, he said.
“When I was young, I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandfather. He would tell me about ceremonies and the teachings of traditional medicine men,” Sandoval said. “It wasn’t that I was being groomed to be an apprentice. It was common to hand down these teachings in these ways.”
The rigors of Sandoval’s young life in a bygone era of Navajo history instilled virtues within him that served as guides to navigate his time in the Marines. By sheepherding, he was taught to walk long distances in the heat without much food or water.
As he and the other Navajos entered boot camp, they excelled in the physical activities that other non-Navajos found difficult, he said.
Although extremely humble about his service as a Navajo Code Talker, Sandoval felt it was time to show the documentary to present an unexplored aspect of history. The documentary is a testament not only to his service but the service of all Navajo Code Talkers.
Contrasting the verbal teachings he was given in his youth by his grandfather, Sandoval felt the viewing of the documentary was necessary in recounting the history of the Navajo Code Talkers.
“What we hear is what we learn and it is wisdom that comes from our history. It’s a path that needs to be told,” he said. “Tonight, this is what we are doing. Tonight, this documentary will show us what a code talker is.”
As the Navajo Code Talkers were critical in winning World War II by utilizing the Navajo language in codifying messages, President Begaye encouraged all tribal members to continue to learn and speak Navajo.
“Our Navajo language is powerful and we should never be ashamed of speaking Navajo. We should always strive to learn and teach our children,” he said. “Navajo Code Talker Sam Sandoval used this powerful tool to win the war. Many people think it’s ships, guns and missiles that won the war but it was our powerful language. Freedom is not free and let’s never forget this.”