Frank Chee Willeto, a Navajo Code Talker and former Navajo Nation vice president, died Saturday at his home in Pueblo Pintado. He was 87.
Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly has ordered the Navajo Nation flag to be flown at half staff today through sundown Thursday. “I am saddened that we lost Frank Chee Willeto,” Shelly said in a statement. “He served his country and returned home and served his people in many ways. …The Navajo Nation’s prayers and condolences are with the family of Mr. Willeto.”
Willeto was born June 6, 1925, in Crownpoint.
Willeto joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1944 and became a Code Talker, an elite group of Marine recruits whose native language was used to create a code that proved to be unbreakable by the Japanese. The military didn’t declassify documents acknowledging the Code Talkers’ role in the war until 1968. In July 2001, the Navajo Code Talkers were awarded the Congressional Silver Medal.
Willeto served with the Corps’ 6th Division in Saipan and Okinawa during the battle for the Pacific.
After the war, he returned to the reservation and worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs roads department from 1946 to 1974.
Willeto is a former Navajo Supreme Judicial Council judge and Pueblo Pintado Chapter president. In August 1998, he was appointed vice president of the Navajo Nation.
Services are pending.