‘I want the museum up’: Samuel Sandoval dreamed of code-talker museum
The funeral service for Navajo Code Talker Samuel Sandoval will be held on Wednesday morning at the Ryder Memorial Chapel in Farmington.
Malula Sandoval said that on Monday night, her husband’s funeral service begins at 10 a.m. at the chapel located at the Navajo Preparatory School.
According to his wife, Sandoval began having health problems shortly after a Navajo Nation presidential candidate forum was held at San Juan College on June 3.
She said he constantly went to the hospital after the forum for veterans. Then on a Tuesday, he had an “episode,” which she said she would never understand. Malula said Samuel caught pneumonia when he was younger and was doing survey work in Red Valley. Pneumonia scarred his lungs.
“We got into the hospital, and he spent three days and two nights in ICU. After that, he went to a different ward and stayed another two days. It was on a Friday. And I guess he told the doctor he was ready to go home and was OK,” Malula said.
Before he got sick, Malula said talks about building a Navajo Code Talker Museum started again.
Thirteen years before, on July 31, 2009, the Chevron Corporation donated land to the Navajo Code Talkers. The late Navajo Code Talker Keith Little, then president of the former Navajo Code Talkers Association, a 501 (c)(19) nonprofit organization, and Frederick D. Nelson, representing Chevron, signed a proclamation.
At the time, concept drawings of the Navajo Code Talkers Museum were being planned, and the future museum was to be built about a mile east of Tse Bonito, New Mexico.
Malula became emotional when she said her husband had dreamt of seeing the museum come to life.
“He had a voice in it; he traveled; he said, ‘Take me to the meetings, I have a plan, I got a vision, I want this thing done. I want the groundbreaking done; I want the museum up. I want to see it before I leave,’” she said as she wept. “He never did. That’s the part that hurts.”
At the beginning of the discussions, it was Samuel, Malula, Peter MacDonald, his daughter Hope MacDonald-Lonetree, and Regan Hawthorne, the son of the late Navajo Code Talker Roy Hawthorne. After being discharged from the hospital, Malula said he wanted to attend a Navajo Code Talker Museum meeting, and she told him, “No.”
So, he asked her brother to attend the meeting on his behalf.
“When my brother came back, he came and took the notes and told him, ‘Here, Sam, here’s the notes. Here’s all the material; this is what they passed out. We talked about this,’” she said. “He was very happy. He was all happy. He says, ‘It’s coming, it’s coming, I’m going to be at that groundbreaking. I’m gonna get that gold shovel and kick that dirt.’”
Then he had another episode. She called for her sister and told her of his emergency. She told Malula to call the ambulance, and she’d wait outside for EMS to arrive.
“He was gasping for air. He’s like he’s getting choked, even though his oxygen was in his nose,” she recalled. “They came right away, and they took him; never came home.”
Sandoval died last Friday night. He was 98, about three months shy of turning 99 in October.
Met at work
Malula said they met at their work. She was a secretary, and they both ran an alcohol recovery program. At the time, she did not know he was a Navajo Code Talker.
Before meeting her future husband, she said her father spoke of Navajo boys being taken off to war. One day, at a parade, she saw a group of men, dressed sharply, wearing blue caps at the time, walking in a parade. She later learned they were the code talkers.
When they married in 1990, still unaware her newlywed husband was a Navajo Code Talker, she said Samuel showed her a book by Doris A. Paul, who wrote a book in 1973 titled, “The Navajo Code Talkers.”
“All I know is that he said he is a Marine,” Malula remembered, saying Samuel never told her he was a code talker.
She said he gave her a book and said for her to read a section in it.
“It said, ‘Samuel Sandoval of Farmington, radio man,'” Malula remembered reading from Paul’s book.
Aside from consistently being recognized as one of the Navajo Code Talkers, Malula said Samuel was a quiet man who cherished his privacy.
“My husband was a very simple man. He was very private,” she said. “He said that ‘If you were in the thick of it, if you really transmitted the code, there’s no bragging about it.’ He said he’s been in the thick of it, and he almost got killed. He tried to play a low profile.”
To honor her husband’s legacy and his commitment to building a museum, Malula said she’d like to continue working on the museum. She wasn’t sure, and she said because her priority was to lay her husband to rest on Wednesday.
Samuel was originally from Nageezi, New Mexico. His clans were Naasht’ézhí Dine’é, born for Tł’ááshchí’í, whose maternal grandfather was Tsenabahiłnii and whose paternal grandfather was Ta’neeszahnii.
Samuel’s daughter, Karen D. John, said his brother, Merril Sandoval, was also a Navajo Code Talker who died in 2008.
“We just want to honor his life as a Navajo Nation Code Talker veteran, a public servant to not only the Navajo people but the United States of America,” John said on Sunday. “He was very proud of being a code talker.”
Samuel enlisted into the Marine Corps on Mar. 26, 1943, and completed his basic training in 1942. Following his training, he served in five combat tours, including Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam, Peleliu, and Okinawa.
He was honorably discharged on Jan. 26, 1946, and returned home. He enrolled in college, earned a substance abuse counseling certificate, and worked in Farmington as a counselor.
The Nageezi-native earned a Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, a Combat Action Ribbon, a China Service Medal, a World War II Victory Medal, and a Navy Occupation Service Medal with Asia Clasp, and an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with a silver star, in lieu of five bronze stars.
Navajo presidential candidates expressed condolences to Sandoval’s wife, Malula Sandoval, and his family.
“As a code talker that represented our Navajo Nation, I am honored to have met him,” Rosanna Jumbo-Fitch said on Saturday. “Prayers to his family.”
“Thank you, Sam, for all your support throughout the years for me to become a leader for Navajo,” Dineh Benally said. “My condolences to the family.”
“It’s a very saddening to hear that one of our Code Talkers has passed on into the spirit world,” Buu Nygren said. “One of the things I can always remember and what warms my heart, and it will continue to warm my heart throughout my life, is the strength of our language and how they continue to honor it. My condolences to all of his family.”
Ethel Branch thanked Samuel for his service and for setting a standard of “Diné excellence.”
“My condolences to his family and friends, and all in the Shiprock community who knew and loved him,” Branch said. “Let’s honor his life and the life of all our code talkers by making his dream of a Code Talker Museum a reality.”
Three Navajo Code Talkers, Thomas Begay, John Kinsel, and Peter MacDonald, remain.
Samuel attended Navajo Methodist Mission. The school became Navajo Academy in the 1980s before changing to Navajo Preparatory School in 1991.
A public memorial is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the San Juan College Henderson Fine Arts Center this Saturday in Farmington.