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

Biography of Navajo Code Talker Samuel Holiday, together with a video recording of his oral history interview from the Veterans History Project archives.

Samuel Tom Holiday

Samuel Holiday during his oral history interview with the Navajo Code Talker's Project in 2004

Unit: 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division
Dates of Service: May 1943 - November 1945
Battles / Campaigns: Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, Iwo Jima

"They sent us wherever they needed us, wherever we were most dangerous." (Video interview, 46:17)

Samuel Holiday was born in Oljato, Utah, within the Navajo reservation. He was raised primarily by his mother, and his family lived a seminomadic lifestyle in the Monument Valley area, where they produced most of their own food. His earliest memories were of Navajo religious teachings from his mother, who also put him through the traditional training for war by implementing an intense exercise program and teaching him to endure extreme weather. At the age of 13 he was forced to attend Tuba City Boarding School - a government-run boarding school where he faced harsh discipline and abuse.1

After being called up in early 1943, Holiday almost immediately encountered racist attitudes towards Native Americans at the in-processing station in Phoenix. Despite such encounters, he was proud to earn the titles of both Marine and Code Talker, and knew that the Code Talkers earned the respect of their fellow Marines.2 Together with his good friend Dan Akee, Holiday was assigned to the 25th Marine Regiment in the 4th Marine Division, and they would see combat at Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima. Holiday often went on hazardous patrols to locate enemy positions, and called in artillery strikes using the Navajo Code that devastated Japanese positions. After one such artillery strike on Saipan, Holiday and his comrades examined a Japanese position that had been destroyed, and he was profoundly affected by the sight of so many dead Japanese soldiers (Video interview, 47:25). He also remembers a time on Tinian when he went to the aid of a wounded Marine under heavy fire (Video interview, 53:30). Later, during the Battle of Iwo Jima, Holiday recalls a time when he and several of his buddies were pinned down in their foxholes by heavy fire, and he resolved that if he made it back alive he wanted to travel and visit all the states of the U.S. (Video interview, 36:00). He also remembers building close friendships with the officers and other Marines he worked with.

After Holiday returned from the war, he discovered that his service on four Pacific battlefields did not protect him from racist treatment—on his way home from Los Angeles to Navajo lands, he was repeatedly denied service at hotels and restaurants. He remarked, "the people did not care about veterans, my going to war meant nothing to them; it seemed just like having a good horse, working it hard until the job was finished, then chasing it away."3 Holiday struggled with symptoms of post-traumatic stress, and his family arranged to have Enemy Way ceremonies performed for him. The Enemy Way is a traditional Navajo ceremony performed for returning combat veterans to help them process their experience, reintegrate into society, and restore balance to their life. Holiday credited these ceremonies with alleviating his symptoms of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. Holiday was highly sensitive to the violence of combat and to the suffering that it caused on both sides. The suffering that he witnessed during the war motivated him to become a traditional medicine man later in life so that he could help others find healing and comfort.

After his time in the military, Holiday also served as a police officer in Tuba City for five years, before working in the coal mining industry and becoming a foreman. Samuel Holiday passed away in June 2018 at the age of 94.

Oral History Interview

Further Reading

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.


  1. Samuel Holiday and Robert McPherson, Under the Eagle (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013), 26-30. Back to text
  2. Ibid., 66-87. Back to text
  3. Ibid., 183-184. Back to text