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"To most of us--maybe for all of us as Code Talkers--it was just another day at the war, we just did what we were supposed to do, that’s all." (Video interview, 23:18)

   Roy O. Hawthorne
Collection image
Roy Hawthorne [detail from video]
War: World War, 1939-1945; Korean War, 1950-1953
Branch: Marine Corps; Army
Service Location: Okinawa Island (Ryukyu Islands); Pacific Theater; also: Korea
Rank: Corporal; Corporal
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Roy O. Hawthorne was born in 1926 in Ganado, Arizona to a Navajo mother and a white father who operated a trading post on the Navajo reservation. During his first year of high school, Hawthorne dropped out to enlist in the Marine Corps at the age of 17, but would later go on to complete a PhD. He was assigned to the 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, and during the Battle of Okinawa, Hawthorne recalls taking part in the intense fighting on Dakeshi Ridge, where he called in a critical air strike using the Navajo Code. Hawthorne later served in the Army, where he became a paratrooper, rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant, and also fought in the Korean War, during which he experienced the Chinese Spring Offensive of 1951 before being wounded in the leg by shrapnel from a mortar round. Doctors amputated Hawthorne’s right leg at the knee, but he persevered and stayed in the Army for several more years after the Korean War ended. After being medically retired, he completed seminary school and eventually became a Baptist pastor. Hawthorne also served as a tribal police officer, and was highly involved in the Navajo Code Talkers Association.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (17 clips)
» Part 1 
Download: video (87 min.)
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (17 items)
Discusses the use of English and Navajo names; birthplace in Ganado, Arizona; living near Lupton, Arizona for most of his life. (02:02) Why Code Talkers were rarely promoted; enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1943 at the age of 17; wanting to join Navy, but being required to join the Marine Corps; completing boot camp and being assigned to the Navajo Communications School. (03:55) Training as a Code Talker and communications specialist at the Navajo Communications School at Camp Pendleton. (02:07)
Being sent to Guadalcanal for training with his unit; being away from the reservation for the first time; conditions on the Navajo reservation in the 1940s; running into a cousin of his--who was also a Code Talker--while on Okinawa. (03:11) Navigating his own way to Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego with little understanding of how the outside world operated. (03:16) Training on Guadalcanal after the island had been secured, preparing for the invasion of Okinawa; being cross-trained on a variety of weapons systems and tasks; strategic significance of Navajo Code for keeping communications secret from the Japanese; important role that Philip Johnston played in development of the Navajo Code; Code Talkers and other military veterans’ important role in destroying stereotypes about Native Americans. (08:13)
Experiences during the Battle of Okinawa; fighting on Dakeshi Ridge, being pinned down by machine gun fire for two days - sending radio message in Navajo Code to call in air strike that rescued the situation; high numbers of casualties on Okinawa, including to PTSD; talking to fellow Code Talker William D. Tsosie on the radio during the battle, then meeting him many years later. (07:32) Describes how the Code Talkers fit into the Marine Corps’ organizational structure; experiences during the Battle of Okinawa; the demoralizing effects of coming under friendly fire; Japanese skill in intercepting radio communications meant that calls for fire support could only be sent in Navajo Code. (06:35) Being discharged from the Marines; being out of the military for two years before enlisting in the Army; serving in Korean War and being wounded there; differences between World War II and the Korean War; working in field communications in Korea; Chinese Spring Offensive of 1951; manpower shortages and problems with integrating replacements; describes the action in which he was wounded by shrapnel from a mortar round. (11:04)
Aftermath of being wounded in Korea; being treated at a field hospital for wounds to his leg; spending a year in the hospital at Walter Reed; staying in the Army for several years after having his leg amputated at the knee. (05:07) Hawthorne’s parents and family; his parents’ livelihood raising sheep and selling arts and crafts; childhood with six brothers and one sister - all six brothers served in the military, three as Code Talkers; a grandfather served as an Army scout; two uncles were medicine men (04:46) Experiences at school; area where he grew up had a lot bilingual speakers; students were punished for speaking Navajo even if they were just trying to help others; went to integrated public school until seventh grade, when he was sent to a BIA boarding school. (06:55)
Continuing his education all the way through a PhD; dropping out of high school to enlist; completed high school diploma while in the military; story of how Chief Manuelito valued education. (02:19) How military life helped him to mature; benefits of military service for him and other Navajos; benefits of the GI Bill. (02:55) Recalls not feeling discriminated against while in the military; use of the term “Chief”; misunderstanding between ethnicities went both ways; story about white Marines assuming the Navajos could use a bow; different ethnicities grew to understand each other quickly. (04:30)
Recalls mission on Okinawa to capture a hill at night, when they surprised the Japanese defenders the next morning while they were preparing breakfast, but soon found they were up against superior numbers; they then used Navajo Code to successfully call for reinforcements and take the hill. (04:54) Being medically retired from the military out of Fort Carson, Colorado in the late 1950s; becoming a Christian after the Korean War while he was still in the Army; decision to retire from the Army was motivated by his desire to enter the ministry; marriage and family - five children. (01:59) 

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  October 26, 2011
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