Willie K. Begay died Monday in Polacca, Ariz., at age 88. His daughter, Kristy Kescoli Begay, said he had been ill with cancer.

His death was announced by Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amos F. Johnson, who noted Begay was the third Code Talker to die within two weeks.

The Code Talkers, members of the Marine Corps during World War II, used their language to transmit messages on enemy tactics, Japanese troop movements and other battlefield information in a code the Japanese never broke. Code Talkers took part in every assault the Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945, according to the Naval Historical Center in Washington.

Their work was declassified in 1968.

Begay received a Congressional Silver Medal in recognition of his service in 2001.

He will be buried at the family cemetery, according to the Navajo Nation president's office.

"It is with greater sadness that we bid farewell to our honored Code Talkers," Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. said.

Begay was born March 21, 1921, in Forest Lake, Ariz., and attended Keams Canyon Boarding School and Fort Wingate High School.

He enlisted in the Marines on Aug. 10, 1944, in Santa Fe, and served with the 3rd Marine Division.

After his discharge on July 5, 1946, he went to work for the Pinon Trading Post. He retired in 1984.

Begay is survived by his wife, Alice Natonie Begay; children Irene Nez, Darlene Chee, Nelson K. Begay, Dennison K. Begay, Kristy Kescoli Begay, a brother, seven sisters, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren


A Third Death Among Navajo Code Talkers

June 4, 2009

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — Willie K. Begay, a Navajo Code Talker who was part of the original group recruited to develop what became an unbreakable code that confounded the Japanese during World War II, has died. He was the third Code Talker to die in a little more than three weeks.

Begay, of Pinon, Ariz., died Monday after a battle with cancer, according to one of his daughters, Kristy Kescoli Begay. He was 88.

Code Talker John Brown Jr. died May 20 at his home in Crystal, N.M.

Thomas Claw died May 26 at the veterans hospital in Prescott, Ariz., after a battle with cancer.

The elite group of Navajo Marines transmitted messages in their native language. Begay served with the 3rd Marine Division and was overseas for 11 months.

In 2001, Begay received a Congressional Silver Medal in recognition of his service.

~~AP