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

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

Wilfred E. Billey

Wilfred Billey during his oral history interview in 2004

Unit: 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division
Dates of Service: March 1943 - January 1946
Battles / Campaigns: Tarawa; Saipan; Tinian; Okinawa

"When I joined the Marine Corps in 1943 the guys that were already there were teasing us—they were saying 'you'll be sorry!' All I can say to you guys going in today is 'you’ll be sorry!'" (Video interview,11:10)

Wilfred Billey was born in 1923 near Sanostee, New Mexico, on the Navajo reservation. He attended boarding school at the Navajo Methodist Mission School in Farmington before enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1943. Billey remembered that his experiences at boarding school made boot camp seem familiar, and he had no problems making it through. After completing the training to become a Code Talker at the Navajo Communication School at Camp Elliott, Billey was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division with whom he took part in the battles on Tarawa, Saipan, and Tinian. Billey was the only Code Talker assigned to his battalion, and found himself working mostly as a regular radio operator at first. On Tarawa, his unit did not employ the Navajo Code at all, and Billey actually spent much of the Battle of Saipan assigned as a radio operator to A Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines. By the invasion of Tinian, however, his battalion had realized the value of the Navajo Code, and he spent much of his time there sending coded messages.

After returning from the war, Billey finished high school, then went on to get a bachelor's degree and start his career in education. He worked as a science and industrial arts teacher, as a guidance counselor, and also attained a master's degree while working full-time. He taught for thirteen years at his old school, Navajo Methodist Mission School, before serving as the principal of Shiprock High School for fifteen years. Billey also worked in administration, leading a federal education program for ten years before his retirement. Throughout his career in education, Billey worked hard to help his students realize opportunities in higher education as well as vocational training. When the Congressional Gold Medal and Silver Medal were awarded to the Code Talkers in 2001, Billey worked together with New Mexico's congressional delegation to ensure that deserving individuals were on the list to receive the medal. He also helped come up with the inscription at the bottom of the Medals: "Dine Bizaad Yee Atah Naayee' Yik'eh Deesdlii" or "The Navajo language was used to defeat the enemy."

Wilfred Billey passed away in December 2013 at the age of 90. His family, as well as his former students, remembered him as a positive influence, as a role model who led with calmness and kindness.

Oral History Interview

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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.