Navajo Code Talker dies from pneumonia - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Navajo Code Talker dies from pneumonia

Posted: Updated:
Samuel Smith (Source: The Navajo Nation) Samuel Smith (Source: The Navajo Nation)

A Navajo man who aspired to be a pilot but was recruited to become a Code Talker during World War II has died.

Samuel "Jesse" Smith, 88, died Monday night in Albuquerque after recent bouts with pneumonia, said his son, Michael Smith.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly ordered Navajo Nation flags to be flown at half-staff through sunset on April 18.

The elder Smith enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps to become a pilot, but his plan was derailed because he didn't have a high school diploma. Instead, he became one of hundreds of Navajos who used a code based on their native language to confound the Japanese and help win the war.

Smith was 17 when he was assigned to the 4th Marine Division. Assigned to Headquarters Company, Smith was tasked with transmitting messages for Gen. Clifton B. Cates, commander of the Marine landings in Saipan and Tinian.

Smith would eventually be sent to Hawaii to assist with refreshing the code, which needed new terms added to the more than 600 code words. The 4th Marine Division would set sail for an undisclosed island in the Pacific, Iwo Jima.

The elder Smith survived the Battles of Roi Namur, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.

His work following the war included law enforcement and directing the Navajo Nation's transportation and water resources offices.

Smith and his wife, who is from Acoma Pueblo, had nine children.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Copyright 2014 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.