Native American Hero, Code Talker Ernest Yazhe Has Walked On

Our nation has lost a true hero, as Ernest Yazhe has passed away. He received full military honors at his funeral Tuesday at Utah Veterans Memorial Park. He died Jan. 12 of kidney failure at age 92. at the age of 92.

Born May 5, 1923, in Naschitti, New Mexico, on the Navajo reservation to Taneezahni Yazhi and Nannebah Belle Yazhi, he joined the U.S. Marines when he was 19 years old, and became one of the hundreds of Code Talkers who played a vital combat role by transmitting battlefield messages in an unbreakable Navajo-based radio code.

Yazhe was also a fifty year member of the IAM, which is where Council-FIRE began.

LDS Bishop Reid Brinton read a brief statement written by Yazhe’s daughter, Melissa Yahze.

“My father was a quiet man. He never liked to have attention drawn to him. In fact, my siblings and I talked and said he would not like having all this attention on him at this time. But he’s not here to get after us.

“He was a kind man. He dearly loved his grandchildren and his nieces and nephews. He and mother looked forward each summer when several of the grandkids would spend their summer vacation at the blue house with them.

“Those who were lucky enough to get close to him were able to witness his humor firsthand. He truly loved my mother and missed her every day, but he was strong and kept going because he loved his children.”

“The Navajo language was the secret weapon that brought victory to the Allied Forces and ended the war in the Pacific,” said Vice President Jonathan Nez in a statement.

The Code Talkers, as they came to be known, began with 29 recruits who joined the Marines in the spring of 1942. Yazhe enlisted in September 1942, at age 19, shortly after his graduation from the Albuquerque Indian School.

In a 2013 video produced by the Utah National Guard, Yazhe described hearing the Japanese utter the words “Code Talkers” as the Japanese discussed on the radio the transmissions they were hearing.  Watch Yazhe talk about his experience as a Code Talker:

An older brother, Harrison Yazhe, also joined the Marines and became a Code Talker, he died in 2004. Both brothers’ names appeared in the Congressional record on the list of Code Talkers confirmed by the Marines. There were at least 440 Code Talkers. Fewer than 18 are still alive.

Robert S. McPherson, a professor of history at Utah State University’s Blanding campus and who has published a book on the Code Talkers, said Thursday that the Code Talkers program was top secret. Yazhe would not have known what he was signing up for.

Ernest Yazhe didn’t talk much about his combat experiences after the war, possibly because the program remained classified until 1968. He didn’t often attend many Code Talker reunions, but he did go to Window Rock, Arizona, for a 2001 ceremony presenting Code Talkers with the Congressional Silver Medal, said Melissa Yazzie.

“The Navajo Nation has suffered the loss of another great Navajo Code Talker. He was a hero and a brave warrior,” said Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez.  “Flags were flown at half-staff on the Navajo Nation from Jan. 19 to Jan. 22 in his honor”.

After Japan surrendered, he helped repatriate Japanese prisoners of war in China. After his discharge, Yazhe went to work for the Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City. There, he met Katie Trujillo, whom he married.  They raised seven children together as he worked for Kennecott Utah Copper for 38 years.  Katie passed away in 2007, and one son, Gary Yazhe, died in 2010.

In 1948, Yazhe went to work at Kennecott Mining Corp., which operates Kennecott Utah Copper. He worked there in various positions for 38 years.  As a fitting continuation of his service, he was a fifty year member of the IAM (Machinists Union), where after valiantly serving the US in defending our freedoms, he came home and put them to use.  After nearly four decades, Yazhe retired as an IAM life member.

“We are honored to have had such a hero in the ranks of the IAM,” said IAM Western Territory General Vice President Gary Allen. “Ernest Yazhe and his brother ‘code talkers’ played an enormous role in our country’s victory in the Pacific.”

Upon his retirement, Yazhe returned to New Mexico, living in Chaco Canyon in what the family calls “the blue house.” He and his wife raised chickens and sheep, and many of the grandchildren spent their summers on the reservation, learning to tend animals and make do without utilities.

Survivors include four daughters, Melissa, Maxine K. Mountainlion, Marcia A. Picklesimer and Maureen Frank; two sons, Ernest J. and Kevin J. Yazhe; two brothers, Herbert Yahze, of Gallup, N.M., and Albert Yahze, of Farmington, N.M.; and four sisters Marie Begay, Evelyn Billy, Helen Begay, all of Naschitti, and Clara Waska, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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