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

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

Robert Yazzie

Unit: Marine Raiders; 6th Marine Division
Dates of Service: 1943 - 1945
Battles / Campaigns: Bougainville; Guam; Okinawa

"We were just all buddies… we were close, close like a family." (Audio interview, Part 2, 16:47)

Robert Yazzie was born in 1924 in Rehoboth, New Mexico, and remembers a difficult childhood marked by some of the typical hardships of the Great Depression. He attended boarding school at the Good Shepherd Mission School in Fort Defiance, Arizona, and then at the Navajo Methodist Mission for high school in Farmington, New Mexico. While still in high school, he met a Marine Corps recruiter and decided to enlist in early 1943.

Yazzie weighed less than 90 pounds when he showed up at boot camp, and was put on extra rations to help him gain weight. He made it through boot camp and training at Camp Elliott to become a Code Talker, and experienced combat for the first time during the invasion of Bougainville in November-December 1943. On Bougainville he remembers getting shot at for the first time, and also finding his way through jungle so thick he could not see his comrades more than a few feet away (Audio interview, Part 1, 32:00). Yazzie next went into action on Guam in July-August 1944, where he remembers primarily working in his command’s communications center. He was assigned to work with the Marine Raiders until they were disbanded and he was reassigned to the 6th Marine Division. With the 6th Marine Division, Yazzie participated in the Battle of Okinawa in April-July 1945. On Okinawa, Yazzie primarily worked in a communications center again, but he vividly remembers the day when a Japanese bomb’s explosion sent shrapnel into his bunker while he was trying to sleep (Audio interview, Part 1, 51:00).

In his interview, Yazzie is humble about his own role in the war effort, but proud to have been a part of what he called "the finest fighting outfits" (Audio interview, Part 2, 48:21). He remembers forming close bonds with the Marines he worked with, and also remembers serving as his platoon’s barber - a task he was given due to his experience cutting his fellow students’ hair at boarding school (Audio interview, Part 2, 20:10). At the end of the war, Yazzie and the rest of the 6th Marine Division were sent to Qingdao, China where they oversaw the surrender and repatriation of Japanese forces there.

After leaving the military, Yazzie used the GI Bill to complete his high school diploma at the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas. He then moved to Nashville, Tennessee and trained as both an auto mechanic and a welder. He worked as an industrial welder for many years in both Nashville and Chicago before retiring in 1990. Robert Yazzie passed away in 2006 at the age of 81.

Oral History Interview

Interview Excerpts

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