Code talker uniform saved from auction, returned to tribe

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Aug. 14, 2014

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A few days after reports began circulating that a uniform of a Navajo Code Talker was going to be auctioned off, tribal leaders stepped in and began making phone calls.

Now the uniform, which belonged to George H. Kirk Sr., is being returned to the reservation and will officially be presented to the Navajo Nation Museum today as part of the celebration of National Code Talker's Day.

According to tribal officials and the code talkers, this is the first time that a uniform has been offered up for sale. There was a report a couple of months ago about a Navajo Code Talker medal in the hands of a California state agency.

Kirk, who was born in 1917, died in 1999 and what happened to his uniform became something of a mystery. The last time it was seen was in a storage unit that he was using but when he died, the family stopped making payments and the storage company sold off its contents.

Then it appeared in a notice of an auction that was to be held this past January.

When Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly heard in early January that the uniform was going to be auctioned off, he contacted Craig Gottlieb, a military historian, who owned the online auction house.

Gottlieb is a well-known historian who has appeared as a history expert on "Pawn Stars" on the History Channel more than 20 times.

He has had somewhat a controversial past by auctioning off items associated with Adolph Hitler and other Nazis, as well as items connected to the Holocaust, to which he responded publicly pointing out that his ancestry was Jewish and that his only purpose in selling the items was historic preservation.

In his dealings with Shelly, Gottlieb said he understood the significance of the uniform to the Navajo people.

"We respectfully asked for the return of the uniform to the Navajo Nation," said Shelly, "and agreed that it would be an exhibit at the Navajo Nation Museum for display to or future generations.

"Thankfully, Mr. Gottlieb was very gracious and cooperative in the matter," said Shelly.

Gottlieb had served in the Marine Corps (the code talkers were also a unit of the Marine Corps) and operates Craig Gottlieb Military Auctions in Solana Beach, Calif.

"It's been a long journey to get where we are and I'm excited," said Gottlieb.

"As a Marine officer who grew up with words like 'ink stock' and 'go faster,' making this donation has special meaning for me." he added.

The official presentation of the uniform will take place at 8 a.m. on Thursday followed by a parade from the museum to Veteran's Memorial Park.

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