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

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

Merril L. Sandoval

Unit: 2nd Marine Division; 5th Marine Division
Dates of Service: March 1943 - March 1946
Battles / Campaigns: Saipan; Iwo Jima

"For the younger generation—and we’re all grandpas—I’d like them to know that our hope and our wish, through God’s will, is that there will be no more terrible wars like that." (Video interview, 6:45)

Merril L. Sandoval was born in a hogan near Kimbeto, New Mexico in 1925. His family resided most of the time near Nageezi, New Mexico, where they raised sheep. Before joining the Marine Corps, Sandoval was a boarding school student at Navajo Methodist Mission School in Farmington. Sandoval’s older brother Samuel also served as a Code Talker, and their parents signed the form for Merril to be able to enlist when he was seventeen because they hoped that the two brothers would be able to look out for each other.

Merril and Samuel never saw each other while in the Marine Corps, however, though both would survive the war. Merril was assigned to Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division after completing training, with whom he participated in the Battle of Saipan. He was later reassigned to Headquarters Battalion, 5th Marine Division, and it was with this command that he took part in the Battle of Iwo Jima. While making the landing on Iwo Jima, his landing craft was hit and he had to swim 100 yards to shore, where he spent the next 24 hours pinned down on the beach under constant Japanese shelling. In his oral history interview, he tells of how he was also nearly killed by other Marines on Iwo Jima who mistook him and another Code Talker for Japanese soldiers.

After leaving the Marine Corps, Sandoval completed his high school diploma at Albuquerque Indian School, and trained as a machinist at the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas. He worked as a machinist in Kansas City and Phoenix for 15 years before returning to the Navajo reservation, where he served as a tribal police officer for three years. Sandoval then worked as a legal advocate for 23 years before retiring, though in retirement he continued to serve as an interpreter for the tribal legal courts. Merril Sandoval passed away on February 9, 2008 in Tuba City, Arizona.

Oral History Interview