Skip to Main Content

Navajo Code Talkers: A Guide to First-Person Narratives in the Veterans History Project

Biography of Navajo Code Talker Alfred Newman, Sr., together with an audio recording of his oral history interview from the Veterans History Project archives.

Alfred K. Newman, Sr.

Unit: 1st Battalion, 21st Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division
Battles / Campaigns: Bougainville, Guam, Iwo Jima

"A loudspeaker came on. They said "The war is over! The Japanese have surrendered." And everybody got out of their bunks and got started yelling." (Audio Interview, part 4, 00:39)

Alfred K. Newman, Sr. was born in 1924 in Rehoboth, New Mexico and split his childhood between nearby Coolidge and the family homestead near Crystal, New Mexico. While living in Coolidge, he attended a one-room school where he picked up some Spanish from his mostly-Hispanic classmates. From the age of eight, he attended boarding school at Rehoboth Mission School, where he and the other students faced punishment for speaking in Navajo. Despite being punished himself for trying to help another boy who didn't understand much English, Newman harbored no resentment for the treatment he received at school. Newman spent a great deal of time outdoors while herding his family’s sheep in the summers, and developed a love of nature and interest in observing wildlife that would last his entire life.

Attracted by the Marine Corps’ history and traditions, Alfred Newman enlisted at the age of 18 in early 1943. After completing boot camp in San Diego, Newman was sent on to the Navajo Communication School at Camp Elliott, where he was impressed with the secrecy surrounding his new assignment as a Code Talker trainee. After completing training, Newman was shipped overseas to Guadalcanal, where he joined up with the 21st Marines of the 3rd Marine Division. Newman trained with his new unit on Guadalcanal for three months in preparation for the invasion of Bougainville. He did not see much combat on Bougainville, but did survive one close call when his company was mistakenly strafed by an American plane. Next came the Battle of Guam, where Newman landed with the first wave as part of a JASCO (Joint Assault Signal Company) team that was supposed to provide liaison services for naval gunfire support. He did not get the opportunity to provide these services, however, as a mortar round landed near their position and wounded the officer in charge of their team. After surviving heavy combat on Guam, Newman next took part in the Battle of Iwo Jima in February 1945. The 3rd Marine Division landed on the fifth day of the battle, and Newman’s dominant memory of his time on Iwo Jima is being shot at every time he moved. He and his fellow Marines were sometimes pinned down for days at a time, and he relied on a small Bible that he carried in his chest pocket to provide him with the mental strength to continue.

While Newman’s unit never employed him in the role he trained for as a Code Talker—he never sent one encoded message—he displayed a remarkable flexibility and willingness to help out where he was needed. He worked as a communications specialist, but also helped move the bodies of the dead and wounded on Bougainville, and even manned a rocket launcher on Iwo Jima.

After the war, Alfred Newman worked as a munitions inspector at Fort Wingate before taking a job at Utah International Navajo Mine, where he worked his way up to a supervisory position before retiring after 25 years of service. Newman was humble about his own status as a Code Talker, but hoped that future generations would learn about their contributions, and remember that Navajos volunteered to serve despite a history of mistreatment at the hands of the U.S. government.

Alfred K. Newman, Sr. passed away on January 13, 2019.

Oral History Interview

Interview Excerpts