In eulogy, grandson says Code Talker was a family man, proud Marine
By Noel Lyn Smith
GALLUP, November 18, 2012
(Times photo – Paul Natonabah)
T he funeral service spoken in both English and Navajo was a fitting homage to Navajo Code Talker George Smith, who delivered the code, based on the Navajo language that helped the United States defeat Japanese forces during World War II.
Smith, 90, of Sundance, N.M., died Oct. 30 here at Gallup Indian Medical Center.
He was born June 15, 1922 in Mariano Lake, N.M. and was Salt People Clan, born for Black Streak Wood People Clan.
Grandson Merrill Teengar presented the eulogy by sharing moments from Smith's life as a family man and Marine during the Nov. 3 service at Rollie Mortuary.
"He loved his family and especially fond of the little ones," Teengar said. "During his last visit to the hospital, he said 'Don't worry, everything will be OK. I lived my life. It's time for me to go.'"
Like many Navajo boys, Smith spent his youth herding sheep with his brothers and spent time renaming the familiar landscape that comprise the back hills of Rehoboth and Breadsprings, N.M.
"He mentioned these days like they happened days before," Teengar said.
Smith attended school in Crownpoint, which generated stories about school dances that he shared with his grandchildren.
"His grandchildren would tease him about the school dances he talked about," Teengar said then added that his grandfather smiled ear to ear when watching the grandchildren imitate the dances.
His education continued at Wingate, where dancing was not allowed, Teengar said.
Smith enlisted in the U.S. Marines in 1943 and was trained as a rifle marksman then as a Code Talker and served in the battles of Ryukyu Islands, Saipan and Tinian and served in Hawaii, Japan and Okinawa.
He was one of three brothers who joined the military – his oldest brother Ray Smith joined the Army and his younger brother Albert Smith joined the Marines and also became a Code Talker.
Smith was 17 and Albert was 15 when they enlisted but changed their ages by two years.
He was honorably discharged Jan. 7, 1946 with the rank of corporal.
After the war, he worked as a destroyer of old ammunition at the Fort Wingate Army Depot then as a mechanic at Fort Wingate Trading Post.
"He loved fixing vehicles and did it well," Teengar said then added that Smith taught his children and grandchildren the "ins and outs" of vehicle maintenance.
"It came to the point where he could diagnose a vehicle problem while talking to someone on the phone," Teengar said.
Smith eventually worked as an auto and heavy equipment diesel mechanic at Navajo Engineering and Construction Authority in Fort Defiance then in Shiprock. He retired in 1995.
Under NECA, he was sent to school in Peoria, Ill. and earned diesel mechanic credentials. Because Smith talked about his job with his family, his grandchildren gave him the nickname "NECA dude."
He was a member of the Navajo Code Talkers Association and the Church Rock Veterans Organization.
His favorite parade was the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial where he enjoyed seeing familiar faces in the crowd.
Through his work with the Navajo Code Talkers Association, he traveled to many places including a revisit to Pearl Harbor and Saipan.
"Being prompt, as any veteran, was his priority," Teengar said about Smith's practice of arriving on time for meetings.
Smith received the silver Congressional medal in 2001.
"He cherished that medal and removed it only once from its original casing and kept it tucked away safely," Teengar said.
During the service, the Rev. Dennis Gardner talked about Moses' challenge to cross the Red Sea when delivering the children of Israel from Egypt.
Gardner explained that Moses asked God how to cross the sea, only to be told to look at what tool he had to use, which was a rod.
When the Marines asked Navajo men what they could use to defeat the enemy in World War II, they looked at what they had and decided to use the Navajo language, Gardner said.
"Moses used a rod to divide the Red Sea, Navajo men used the language and won the second World War in the Japanese theater. He was part of that. His brother sitting here was part of that," Gardner said.
President Ben Shelly called for flags on the reservation to be flown at half-staff from Oct. 31 to Nov. 4.
"Our Navajo Code Talkers have been real life heroes to generations of Navajo people. They have brought pride to our Navajo people in so many ways," Shelly said in an Oct. 31 press release.
Smith was buried with full military honors Nov. 3 in the Rehoboth Mission Cemetery in Rehoboth, N.M.
Smith is survived by his sons, Raymond Smith of Farmington, Gilbert A. Smith Sr. of Sundance, and Irvin E. Smith of Sundance; daughters, Patsy A. Tommy of Sundance, Julie A. Livingston of Sundance, and Mary Ann Smith of Sundance; brothers, Albert Smith of Gallup, Donald Smith of Bluewater, N.M., Leonard Smith of Sundance, and Phillip Lee Smith of Kayenta, Ariz.; sisters, Yvonne Denetclaw of Fruitland, N.M., Florence Dick of Iyanbito, N.M., Phyllis King of Iyanbito, and Diane Smith of Sundance; and 20 grandchildren and 42 great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Rose Henry Smith; parents, Redd and Betsy Dawoola Smith; stepmother Johanna Smith; brothers Sherman Pinto and Ray Smith; sisters Mary Christine Begay and Dorothy Jarmillio.
Smith is the sixth code talker to die this year, after Keith Little, of Crystal, N.M.; Jimmie Begay, of Sawmill, Ariz.; Samuel Tso, of Lukachukai, Ariz.; Frank Chee Willetto Sr., of Pueblo Pintado, N.M.; and Reuben Curley, of Flagstaff.