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

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

Thomas Claw

Thomas Claw during his oral history interview in 2004

Unit: 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division
Dates of Service: March 1943 - December 1945
Battles / Campaigns: New Britain, Peleliu, Okinawa

"We never thought about talking about it. It's just one of those things. The thing had to be done, we did it, that's it—forget about it." (Video interview, 1:09:00)

Thomas Claw was born in 1922 near Many Farms, Arizona within the Navajo reservation. He attended boarding school in Fort Defiance through the 8th grade, then attended Fort Wingate High School. Claw and his classmates were forbidden from speaking in Navajo and faced harsh discipline at school, but he still remembers his school years fondly, "I wasn't scared at all. I mixed up with the rest of the kids there... we didn't think of home" (Video interview, 9:37).

Claw displayed some of this same resilience after enlisting in the Marine Corps in March 1943. He enlisted and went through boot camp with fellow future Code Talker and VHP participant Jack Jones. A little older than most Code Talker recruits, Claw had left school in 1940, gotten married to his wife Barbara, had a child, and was working at a shipyard in San Francisco when he received his draft notice. After completing boot camp, Claw remembers being able to learn the Code with ease, and also being able to comfortably endure special operations training with the Marine Raiders during his time at Camp Pendleton.

Thomas Claw was assigned to the 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division after finishing his training. He worked in the regimental headquarters' operations center, and with them he took part in the amphibious assault at Cape Gloucester, New Britain in December 1943. While on New Britain, Claw remembers how his fellow Marines' sense of humor got them through nightly Japanese bombings. After New Britain, Claw also went into action with the 11th Marines on Peleliu and Okinawa. In June 1945, he was wounded by a Japanese grenade on Okinawa, earning him the Purple Heart.

After the war, Thomas Claw eventually moved to Parker, Arizona and took up farming, while also working as a maintenance manager and bus driver for the local school district. He also worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a water master for the Colorado River Indian Irrigation Project - in this role he was responsible for the irrigation of 80,000 acres of farmland. In his oral history interview, he recounts what Sam Billison once said about Native American veterans' patriotism in the face of discrimination: "whatever anybody thinks, North America—we think, as Native Americans—is our country" (Video interview, 1:11:12). Of all of his achievements, Claw stated that his proudest accomplishment was instilling in his children and grandchildren the importance of education (Video interview, 1:20:15).

Thomas Claw passed away in May 2009 at the age of 87.

Oral History Interview

Interview Excerpts

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