Unit: 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division
Dates of Service: June 1943 - November 1945
Battles / Campaigns: Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, Iwo Jima
"I didn't plan on being in the war; I just wanted to be in the service—that was in my mind since I was very young." (Video interview, 2:29)
Dan Akee was born near Coal Mine Canyon, Arizona on the Navajo reservation in 1922. At the age of six he was sent to a boarding school in nearby Tuba City, but was diagnosed with tuberculosis so spent two years being treated in Kayenta and learning English. He finally started at Tuba City Boarding School in 1930 at the age of eight, where his knowledge of English enabled him to avoid some of the harsh punishments meted out to new students by abusive staff for speaking in Navajo.
In 1942, he tried to enlist in the military, but couldn't pass the physical. A year later, he met John Benally, one of the "First Twenty-Nine" Code Talkers, who recruited Akee and told him that the Marine Corps was seeking Navajos for a special communications project. Akee volunteered again, and passed the physical this time. After completing boot camp and the demanding Navajo Communication School, Akee was assigned to the 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division - together with his good friend Samuel Holiday.
He participated in the battles on Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima, and one of his most vivid memories was of a time when Holiday was briefly detained by other Marines after being mistaken for a Japanese soldier. Another memory that stood out was from Saipan, where Code Talkers transmitted messages warning of an impending banzai attack that had been detected by signals intelligence analysts. He also keenly remembered landing with the third wave on Iwo Jima, and seeing large numbers of dead Marines on the beach. By the end of the war, he was starting to show the psychological effects of prolonged exposure to combat. Akee had two brothers who also served in World War II, one of whom was killed in action.
After the war, Akee worked on the railroad in Santa Fe for 15 years, but left to return to the Navajo reservation. Upon returning home, he got a job as an interpreter for a hospital, where he worked for 21 years until retiring. For several years after he left the military, he had persistent problems with post-traumatic stress and took to drinking. When a doctor told him he had a liver disease that would be fatal, Akee stopped drinking and also turned to religion, becoming a minister in the Assembly of God church.
Akee built a house for himself and his family in Tuba City in the 1950s, but as he aged the house gradually fell into disrepair and he had to move out. In 2015, the Navajo Nation assembled a group of volunteers who renovated the house so that he could live out his final days there. Dan Akee passed away in 2016 at the age of 94.
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