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Interview with John Kinsel [11/6/2003]

John Kinsel:

Well, my name is John Kinsel, Senior. I was born here in Lukachukai. And in Navajo my name is __________. That goes with when you're born, they give you a name, and it always contains like a powerful speaker, or a general, head man - that's what it means. Hash-keh (ph) means "leader who does a lot of talking." And then Nah-adah (ph) means "leader" also, but also "does a lot of talking," so those two-. But in itself, "Din&é" is what we are - the People. And when I was in the Marine Corps, after I got out of boot camp, I was given PFC. And when I came back out of the Marine Corps- [break in recording]

Carol Fleming:

Who gave you the Indian name? Was that your--

John Kinsel:

My mother, she died in 1955, she had a heart attack. And I was the only child man enough to take care of everything around. But I had two little sisters and a brother. If the military had known it, I don't think I would have ever gone in to the Marines, or ever joined any of the armed forces, because I was the only one that was around my mom. But the way I got in was I volunteered, so--

Carol Fleming:

Really? So where was your father?

John Kinsel:

My father died when I was still a baby. He died in probably--I never did know him, I never did see him, because he was away at the time he died. And I had a little brother too--a baby brother--he died too when he was six years old. When I first got into school I lost my little brother, back in 1930. So after that I had a stepfather, but he didn't care much about me. So it seems like my mother put me in school, and I carried on all by myself.

Carol Fleming:

When did you find out that you were going to be a Code Talker?

John Kinsel:

There was a--right after we finished graduating--as soon as you graduated, they gave you an envelope. I look at it, and it said "report to Camp Elliott."

Carol Fleming:

Did you know anything about that?

John Kinsel:

No, nothing. All we knew was we were just going to go up there. I guess there was a--that's a training ground up there. And when we went up there, this white man came around and says "what are you guys doing out here?" He says this in Navajo. And then he says "when are we going to have a sweat house?" in Navajo. And that was Philip Johnston - he was put there as the director, he didn't train us in anything about the Navajo language. He was just a director, and he was the one who introduced the Navajo Code communication system - he said, "it would be good if you used the Navajos." And of course the commanding general and other officers agreed with him. First they had to do some demonstrations, and they came out good, so the commanding general and other officers decided it was good.

Carol Fleming:

So did Philip Johnston--he spoke Navajo?

John Kinsel:

He spoke Navajo, yes.

Carol Fleming:

How did he know Navajo?

John Kinsel:

He had been out here on the Navajo reservation, his father and mother were church people. They were ministers, and he ran around with the Navajo kids out there - riding around, singing songs, and all that stuff with the kids.

Carol Fleming:

So he came up with Navajo?

John Kinsel:

Yeah. But he spoke pretty good, but he never made any words for any code. Somebody said that he's the one that developed all the code, but no. Another lady wrote a book that says that, but no. He didn't make any code.

Carol Fleming:

But it was his idea that the Navajo--

John Kinsel:

His idea, he recommended it. So I think it was a good recommendation, to me. And before us, there was some guys being recruited, too. Those are the ones they call the "First Twenty-Nine." They were recruited somewhere around May, June, July somewhere. And of course August is when they made the landing at Guadalcanal. And during that time, during that period, the First Twenty-Nine were going through the training process. And we came after that, about a whole one month apart. We came somewhere around about October.

Carol Fleming:

So you were almost a part of that beginning group?

John Kinsel:

They were already out when we came. When they were gone, these other ones start coming in, you know? That's when they accumulated maybe about 90 of them. There's always a big controversy on it - how many Code Talkers there were. In my own estimation--as far as the number of Code Talkers concerned--I think it's only about 200. [break in recording]

John Kinsel:

Now, the Code - you've probably seen the--or read a book--what the First Twenty-Nine made. I've got a book in there made by McClain - she wrote it all down, what the First Twenty-Nine developed. That's all they developed here, only 211. From here, we learned all that, and then here's another 200 [motions forward with his hands]. This is the one that contains the--the one that you communicate from rear echelon to front echelon, or rear headquarters down to the front line. That's the one that we learned over here, that's where all the military terms came out - like "bivouac," "artillery," "drone," those things.

Carol Fleming:

So you're saying that that part of the Code came not with the original 29, but with the second--the next group?

John Kinsel:

The second one is the one that was being used. That's the one that was being used. And the reason why I say that, too, is because in that platoon that I was in, four guys didn't make it. They sent them to a Raiders battalion. You know, the Raiders they go on hit-and-runs all over the country.

Carol Fleming:

When you say "didn't make it" - they didn't qualify for--

John Kinsel:

They didn't qualify - see, they give you tests. And remember, I'm fresh out of high school. Those big words like "infiltrators," "amphibious," "recommended," "concentration" - those words--I went through just like that. Just five months out of high school, and I've got my diploma, and I shouldn't be--know what I'm saying? I learned all of that when I was going to school at St. Catherine.

Carol Fleming:

When you got back from the war, you're saying that you didn't want to remember anything?

John Kinsel:

Mm-hm [nods head]. Yes, ma'am. From that point on, when they came out, everybody was silent, I guess. Just like me, I was surprised that I'm alive and I came back, and I just wanted to forget everything of war, and just nothing. But in the meantime, I came back over here in 1946, and then I wanted a job, see? I wanted to work. I went down to Chinle, and they gave me a job there.

Carol Fleming:

What were you doing?

John Kinsel:

I worked here at the school here as an instructional aide. They gave me that job here, but transportation was scarce so I had to walk all the way back from Chinle to here.

Carol Fleming:

How many miles is that?

John Kinsel:

That's about 26 miles.

Carol Fleming:

How often did you do that?

John Kinsel:

I just--like I said, all the time when I was younger I was doing a lot of running around. This wasn't anything to us. And there's no vehicles hanging around except buckboards. I caught a ride from way out there, for about four miles I guess on the buckboards, and then I'd walk the rest of the way. At that time, my oldest son was just a little guy, all I had was one can of milk in here [gestures to belt area] for him. I brought it back at night while it was raining. Now, let's go back to this--talking about things. What happened - see I know these guys came back over here. They still didn't want to talk, they were still like uneducated - maybe they learned some when they were over there, overseas with these other Anglo guys. But for sure, some of them didn't even send any kind of message. They've just been--there, yes, probably as a runner, or whatever, or they would lead patrols, and all that. But when they came back, there was always the GI Bill. Some of those guys used the GI Bill, went back to school. I know Bill Toledo, he went back to school, and after he finished high school he got himself a job. Me, I already got a job and I was doing work for the government over here. In the summer, I'd go to the summer sessions; I'd go and learn different things. I upgraded myself like that, all the way. And then on the other side, these guys that went on the GI Bill, and then they even went to college. Because there was enough time, when they declassified it, there was enough time - 24 years. All that time, they've been doing all kinds of stuff - going to school, and graduating from college, and all that. These guys that came back from overseas, didn't know how to talk - by the time they declassified that thing, these guys knew how to talk like a bunch of lawyers. That's where all these "I've been captured," "I had a bodyguard," this stuff came out. And then they know how to talk, so a lot of these stories they told about raising the Iwo Jima flag, and all that stuff--where they've been, and all that--some of them are just false reports. Just so they--some of these guys being interviewed like this, and they just want to get away. I don't know what they do, what--maybe they give him that, that's the reason that they get in front of people. Like I said, I always said when I go out there, I said, "I'm going to tell the truth. I'm not going to tell you any false stories." But I get to these things anyway, "this is not true, but this one is." So there's all kinds of--this is why there's a lot of controversies come out. That goes for also receiving medals. I don't know why the Silver Medal--there's so many of them. They say there's about 300 guys - like I said before, I don't think it's that much. It's those two up there - Bingaman and Udall, they're the ones that legislated those things. I don't think they should've done that. They should've come out here, and done thorough research behind these guys on who was actually a Code Talker - who actually served as a Code Talker. But what they did is--I know our president said the same thing. "We've got a big list"--I've got a big list in there. And I asked him, "how am I going to know which one is going to get the Silver? How do we know which ones were actually Code Talkers? How are we going to issue those awards?" Know what he says? "It's according to that list," he says. Because his name is on it, too. So, he got his Silver, and he's the Code Talker Association President now, and he's a doctor. See what I mean about these things? People can make a name for themselves a certain way. But from the side, you look at the guy, and you say, "it's not right." We're not talking about something that's just a game - this is where our people got killed. [break in recording]

John Kinsel:

We went to New Zealand, and of course we've been over there eight months. These people over there were very nice people. And we used to live there at the race track - they converted it into barracks, so there's a race track out there. Early in the morning, us Navajos were [makes running motion with arms] around there. And it's grass, too, like a football field. [break in recording]

John Kinsel:

It was nice for eight months, and in the meantime, on Saturdays, we'd talk to each other and learn it so good--really good. We learned all the words, and know what it is, and when we got to--we had one landing problem on the land where we used our language. And then also an amphibious landing, from the ocean on to the landing, we talked, and it was good. And then on the way to Guadalcanal--after it was secured--we made a practice landing in the New Hebrides. It was on that island where some of those sailors were stationed, and they had sort of like a Navy yard there, and all of the replacements were there. And from there, we went to Guadalcanal, the U.S. had secured it, and we lived in one of the coconut groves - set up our camps. And at that time, the Japanese would come from somewhere at night, they were always roaming around up there. Every 30 minutes, they'd drop bombs; he'd do this all night, and then he'd go back in the morning. They called him "Washing Machine Charlie." Because you could hear that thing coming at night, "vyoom, vyoom, vyoom." I guess that's what they meant about a washing machine working. "Here comes Charlie!" Yeah, he threw some bombs on us, but it was always in the wrong place, on a deserted place. They were still throwing some bombs on us, but you could see those ack-acks shooting at them. But one time one night, the young rookie--just came out of the States, at that time they had that Black Widow plane, it was the one that had radar--he shot him down. He shot his colleague down, so no more after that, that was it, that's history. From there, we start training - jungle training, and we'd talk again, no sweat. We went to Bougainville, it's a little larger than Guadalcanal. I always say that "why did it take seven months to secure Guadalcanal, when the First Twenty-Nine were there." In other words, what we learned here we didn't learn in that one. We went to Bougainville, had Thanksgiving over there, in the bush--in the jungle. It was so thick I didn't even know where the front line was, all we did was talk - talk, talk, and we knew where all the places where. And it took us a month and a half, and then we came back. [break in recording]

John Kinsel:

We used to send messages one at a time like this [motions with hands] to each battalion. Each time, I just call those guys, "Drum 1, Drum 2, Drum 3, Drum 4," and then they all get their pen. I sent the message, and all four of them received it at one time. And it would only take about--less than 30 seconds.

Carol Fleming:

And then that message would be given to the officer?

John Kinsel:

Yes, all they had to do was write it down and just initial it, and give it to the guy, and he would take care of it. When they needed you, they would say "Arizona" or "New Mexico," and you would go over there and run--get your pen or pencil--and write it down, and give it to them.

Carol Fleming:

What would be a typical message?

John Kinsel:

Maybe--sometimes it was a jump-off--we sent out jump-offs every night. That means what time the front lines are going to move. It's not always the same time - it's always a different time. It might be four o'clock in the morning; it might be 6:15. In Navajo you said, "It's time to jump."

Carol Fleming:

That meant the time to go?

John Kinsel:

That means the jump-off, yes. Let's see, another thing is some of those words - you know, "flank," or "trout" - it was all for "trail." And "route," R-O-U-T-E, you had to build those names, those words.

Carol Fleming:

What was that in Navajo?

John Kinsel:

"Rabbit trail."

Carol Fleming:

"Rabbit trail?"

John Kinsel:

Yeah, which means that "R" stands for rabbit, and O-U-T-E is "trail." Or you see a rabbit hop around, you see the tracks go that way [makes arced motion with hand]. You see, a route is a trail or something, that's the reason they told me they called it a rabbit trail. That way, it means R-O-U-T-E, "route." And "flank," too - it's something wide, expanding on the side, "flank."

Carol Fleming:

And in Navajo, what was that?

John Kinsel:

That's the kaht (ph) that means to go like that [makes flanking motion with his hand]. So yeah, these are all created words, it's like when you find a puppy dog, and you give them a name, that's how we learn it. Once they learn it, it's like your own name. When they give you a name, you remember it, you memorize it. Same way with your serial number, just like that, that's how we learned this thing. But not today, a lot of those words are gone - I've forgotten all about it. It's been a long time, but what happened at that time is just like it happened yesterday. But some of the things that we went through--and then, again, when we were communicating, there was always a guy who was right there, so I would use his radio. Sometimes I used John's--big man, John Walker--he would wind that thing [makes motion as if winding radio with his hands], "hurry up, Mike! Hurry up!" One day he says, he asks me "how come it takes you so long, and I'm over here about losing my arms?" "Well, when I sent the message, I asked the other guy, 'what's happening back home, what's going on at home?' and all that." He says, "I knew all the time you guys were pulling something!" [laughs] There was another guy--

Carol Fleming:

--so he would have to wind it?

John Kinsel:

He would wind it [makes winding motion with his hands]. It was just like a generator--

Carol Fleming:

--to generate the energy?

John Kinsel:

He would have to go like that [makes winding motion with his hands]. And then there was a standard hook antenna sticking up up there, and it was a really powerful thing.

Carol Fleming:

So what was your--you went to Bougainville, after Bougainville where were you?

John Kinsel:

We went to Guam. From Guadalcanal--we went back to Guadalcanal, and we trained again, and rested up, and all that. Then we went to the staging area, boarded ship, and headed out going that way. Somewhere along the line--in the Marshall Islands, the Gilbert Islands, somewhere--we made another landing problem. Because we landed on a little island, from here to that highway, I guess [gestures out the window], nice little island. And then there's quite a few of them islands, everybody took off that way. Our company made a landing on this little island--maybe about one mile by two, I guess--and we'd lay out there on the beach, you know? [puts hands behind head in a relaxed pose] Nice country that was, and then we would talk. It was in the Gilbert Islands, or Marshall Islands way up there. And then we boarded ship again, and we started sailing, way up there somewhere between the Marshall Islands and Guam. All of a sudden, all of the ships start turning this way [gestures to his right] - I said "what's going on?" And then the speaker up there says "we're shifting, because we got word there's a Jap task force coming this way." So we went out that way [gestures to his right], just like everybody runs to Mama, because the United States was this way, and everybody went that way. But we kept on going for about three or four days that way, kept shifting like this. And then all of a sudden, everybody anchored - all in the middle of the ocean, anchored. And then the speaker says "you guys want to swim?" "What!? Right in the middle of the ocean?" "Yeah." So I said to myself, "once in a lifetime I'm going to do something, I'm going to jump in that ocean and swim." They lowered all the boats down, and circled around like that [makes wide circling motion with his hand], real big place. And we all came down, naked! [laughs] Nothing on, naked, some of those guys were jumping off the ship like that [holds nose], and then they would swim around out there. Me, I had never felt the ocean, but when I jumped in there, boy that was cold! I was going to swim out that way, but I turned out and swam that way just a little ways. That was enough for me, boy! I came back, went up there, and took a fresh water shower. That was it, out in the ocean! And this guy came up and said, "how come you just came right back up?" I said, "I don't want to freeze." I said, "What's the closest land?" He says, "down that way [points down]." "How far?" I said. "Four miles," he said [laughs]. Four miles, he says!

Carol Fleming:

Oh my gosh, was that training?

John Kinsel:

Well, I guess it's just a break, everybody--we had a big fleet out there.

Carol Fleming:

Just to kind of take the edge off?

John Kinsel:

Yeah, and then from there--that afternoon we docked there for about, oh, maybe a couple hours, three hours--and then we started moving. And from that time, we started heading for Guam.

Carol Fleming:

Did you know you were headed for Guam?

John Kinsel:

Yeah, we already knew. Because they tell you when you're sailing, when you're en route they tell you about it, "This is where we're heading." So we would start training for this and that. In two days, you learned about the things--what you're supposed to do, and what not to do, and all of those things.

Carol Fleming:

How did you feel - were you afraid?

John Kinsel:

No, because I would never go on the front line. I'm thinking, "Well, we're just heading that way, I guess." Same way we would go two, maybe four - Bill.

Carol Fleming:

So you felt safe?

John Kinsel:

Yeah, we felt safe. All the time I was that way. But, all the war, I still had some chills going up my spine, behind my back - it's scary. It's all I feel, I kept it all to myself. And when it's all over, you showed that you were relieved, and relaxed, and all of that. But I had some experiences on Guam. When we landed, there were three positions really raining [Type] 91s on us - there was a hill way up there, about out in the desert as far as that hill over there [points out the window]. We were in rice paddies, out in the open - we would see that thing coming down, and everybody would just keep running. And this guy, he was running after me, and he found a water trough. He jumped in there, and said, "I'm going to stay here!" I said, "you can die in there, I'm going on!" When he got out of there, oh boy, they hit that thing - he almost got killed! So we made it, we made it to the hills over there.

Carol Fleming:

So they were firing all around you?

John Kinsel:

All around us - mortars, and probably heavy artillery, too, because--and there was a lot of fighting going on at the west side of the island, too. They had the little canyons, ledges, and all that. And over here [gestures to his right].

Carol Fleming:

So you could hear lots of noise?

John Kinsel:

Yeah, it was just like lightning. That's why I got my hearing; it got down to about fifty percent now. Sometimes when I'm talking to my wife, or when she talks to me, I hear funny things. With the way she talks, it looks like she's saying something funny, and I have to ask her again, then I'll make it out. When we went over that hill there, you could see those big guns sitting way up there, and ours were sitting down here, and they were shooting back and forth at each other. And of course, the Japanese were looking at us from down there [gestures to imitate binoculars in front of his face]. They had powerful binoculars that were kind of shaped like this [gestures with his hands], and they could see a number right here [points to his chest]. I found one and looked in it, and from here to against that hill over there [points out window] if a guy had that U.S. Marine Corps--this thing [points to Marine Corps insignia on his cap] on him right here on his shirt, saying "USMC" on it. But what they're looking for is the leaders [points to cap where rank insignia would be], they told us never to wear your emblems, whatever you are. If you're a captain, don't carry any bars. See, the First Twenty-Nine learned all those things, like the bars, they said "two silver," "one silver," "one gold," "oak leaf" for a major. And for generals - "one star" for brigadier general, "two stars," all the way up, in Navajo. Now, when we went over that hill there, when we advanced over that hill there, John and I, you know I was with John, that big guy. I called him "John," both of us were John, we got mixed up in our naming all the time, so he said, "I'm going to call you Mike." So he called me Mike and I called him John. We were snooping around up there in the bushes, and all of a sudden there's two people that had their arms tied like this [holds hands behind his back], their heads were sticking in the bush. And we went over there, and I used my rifle and I went like [makes pushing motion with hands] - no head. "Hey John, these guys have no head." It was a man and a woman. [shakes head] Elders, about maybe 40 years old, both of them. They cut their heads off, and I don't know what they did with them. But along that area, there was a lot of Japs laying around, too - killed. It stank, ooh! They also told us never move those bodies around like that, some of them they would lay on a hand grenade, and you pull it over, and "boom" it blows up - there were booby-traps. So I never bothered them. I walked over a lot of them, I smelled a lot of them, I saw a lot of body parts laying around, my goodness--terrible! [break in recording]

John Kinsel:

When we got to the top of the hill there, I saw some houses being shot up, and there was a goat that got killed, too. And then there was a dump - food dump, I found one of those--some of those fish food in a can--I forgot what they're called--crabmeat, I guess. Every night, it was good - John and I, he got a case and I got a case, too, and we would carry that thing around, we ate that.

Carol Fleming:

And that was Japanese?

John Kinsel:

Japanese, they made it with _____+. Boy, it was good. It took about, oh, a month and a half I guess, and we secured that place. There was a lot of fighting, a lot of fighting going on there - a lot of killing. And they heard that there were some civilian people over there somewhere, I never seen them. All I saw was these two guys with no head. And we stayed in one place that was on the beach, the tide would go way out, as far as that mountain over there [gestures out the window]. And you would go out there and you would see--they called them "bird eyes"--you know, the shells? They were hanging on the leaves, on the little leaves, and we would eat them. There was a crab or something inside, you know? I guess those guys pick a lot of them out and make something like this [stands and gestures].

Carol Fleming:

Oh, like a necklace?

John Kinsel:

Uh-huh.

Carol Fleming:

With the things from the tree?

John Kinsel:

Uh-huh, maybe something like that. And they would eat--I seen some real orange black ones. They were the same shape, but there was a circle around them with a real orange dot in the middle. Nice, but you hardly got any. And then there was a guy that got caught by a clam, about that big [stretches his arms out to full width]. It caught him right here [gestures at foot].

Carol Fleming:

What was it?

John Kinsel:

Clam. Those things that go like that [makes opening and shutting motion with his hands], a clam.

Carol Fleming:

Oh!

John Kinsel:

It started going down in the hole with him, so they grabbed him and pulled him back out. But they said that--that thing sucks, I guess--it sucked all his flesh off, he was just screaming. But they got a crowbar or whatever, and they opened that thing, and they got his foot, and it was nothing but bone. See, anyways, that's war. [laughs] You can see anything in war like that.

Carol Fleming:

And you were 20 years old?

John Kinsel:

I was 20 years old, getting to 21. So--I guess I was 21 by that time, at Bougainville, and then we got back to Guam, and it was already a year - '43 or '44. See, this all happened in '43 - Guadalcanal, and Bougainville, New Britain, all the rest of them, like Tarawa and all that, Gilberts, Marshalls, they all happened in '44. Same way with Guam, we did that in '44.

Carol Fleming:

So what happened after Guam?

John Kinsel:

Well, we--I guess they got the airport back, the Navy yard on the east side. And we built the piers, and they started bringing loads of our stuff. And then after that we went to Iwo.

Carol Fleming:

Iwo Jima?

John Kinsel:

Iwo Jima. Boy, that was a terrible battle, but I didn't take much part in it - about seven days I spent on that island.

Carol Fleming:

Of Iwo Jima?

John Kinsel:

[nods] We didn't land until D plus five. That means five days after the landing - the 4th and 5th [Marine Divisions], they landed and we were out there as the floating reserve. By the fourth or fifth day, I guess the guys over there in the 5th Marine Division were all chopped up and they needed another regiment, so the 21st went in. And then the next day we went in, we hit the center. People I've known out here a long time, they say that I was a good runner, I was a good runner. I proved it over there at Motoyama Number 2 Airfield. They had that elevation like that--steps [makes upward stepping motion with his hands]--and on top there's pillboxes all the way around with machine guns set up. And down there is level like this [gestures to the floor] at the airport, about 75 yards across, and we were behind the hill there. The sergeant said, "when I say 'go,' I want you guys to run! Don't wait for anybody, if somebody falls down keep on running!" Right away, right there I thought to myself "I'm going to run away from those guys, as soon as he says 'go' I'm going to take off. They're not going to shoot at me, I'm going to run by myself. They're going to shoot at the bunch." Sure enough, when he said "go" I was already about 22 yards away from those guys, really running. I dived in the first hole there, and then I stuck my head out and I saw a lot of guys laying around--some of them trying to carry their buddies. The sergeant said "keep running! Keep running! Get away!" So up there on the hill there was a lot of --you could see those bullets ricocheting off the floor like that [gestures with his hands]. And finally they opened up over here [gestures to his right] - our own men, they opened up there, and really blasted that thing up. Mortars, machine guns, BARs, whatever - tanks, antitank guns--boy, it was war. But me, I was in that hole. That night, we moved about 100 yards, there was a lot of fighting going on up that way [gestures in front of him]. Every now and then you would hear "weesht, weeesht, weesht, weesht!" [gestures mimicking bullets going over his head] right on top of our heads. And then they would get that star shell or whatever you call it. At night--those Japanese, they liked to run around at night and cut your throats, you know? They would use banzai attacks and all that stuff, but it never happened in our area except that on the seventh day, March 2nd. That night we were a bit away, we had set up--John and the rest of the guys had sandbags piled up like that, and they put a tent over it. A little hill, about twice as high as this ceiling here [gestures to the ceiling], a little hill there - there was a cave in it. These Korean people came out of there, and they said "these Japanese, they're going to blow this hill up tonight, you better move somewhere else." We didn't listen to them. Boy, that night at about 11:30, "boom!" That thing--there was so much dust flying, John and the gang they all got covered up with dirt. And I was just about ready to receive [mimics a radio handset held to his ear], and when George Kirk said something, "boom!" that blast concussion just threw it way over there - my radio and everything. And I got knocked out a little bit, all of a sudden I opened my eyes and I saw that big boulder coming. I went like that [holds arms in front of his face in protective stance] and it hit me right in here [points at his leg]. This is where I got hit, right here [points at his ankle], it's still there, there's still a bone like that [makes fusing gesture with his hands], together. My leg went out, and right away they got those guys, they dug them out, and here comes John [makes running motion with his arms] and he said, "are you alright Mike, are you alright?!" "I think my leg is dead," I said. So he tried to pull it, and I didn't feel it. So he picked me up, and he took me over to sickbay. And they put me on a jeep, took me down to the beach, about two miles down to the beach there. There was a bunch of them out there on the cots, on those ____ cots, they called them ____ cots. Out there, there was a whole field of them, and they put me right there, too. Every now and then, a shell would come over in the middle of those guys, those wounded. It was a good thing they didn't throw any on me. Next day, they moved a hospital ship a little closer, and they hauled us out there aboard ship, they boarded us on this hospital ship. When I got on there, they gave me a bed, and there was a Navajo boy running around - he said "hey, are you Navajo?" I said "yeah." "What do you want? What do you want to eat?" I said, "I want some cake." "Okay." He ran over there, and came back with this big cake, and also a big bowl of ice cream. I was having a party. I never knew when we left, but all of a sudden about three or four days later we docked over there at night, at Guam. And they started hauling us to the hospital, to the Army hospital there. They had big tents, these great big tents like a barn.

Carol Fleming:

Where was that?

John Kinsel:

On Guam, they took us back. [break in recording]

John Kinsel:

Okay. I stayed over there two weeks - they put a cast on me, and they said I was okay in two weeks. When we left from Guam there was no highway, but this time there was a highway. It was about eight miles out that way, and I walked back on that bum leg about eight miles back to where our camp was. When I got back over there, some of those guys welcomed me, mostly the post office guys. He said, "Yeah, yeah, come on and help us." So we start sorting, putting all the letters together and tying them up, put them over here for each guy. Two days later, here comes the gang - John, and those guys came back, and those other fellows _____. I think they thought I got killed.

Carol Fleming:

Is that right?

John Kinsel:

Yeah.

Carol Fleming:

Just a minute, I'm going to move your--[moves necklace off of microphone] there. So they didn't know what happened to you? They thought you were dead?

John Kinsel:

Yes. John was the only one that came on and he hugged me. And so another week later, there was a bunch of them came in - Navajos. They were the ones sitting way on top of that canyon - he's from right across over here, his name is Sam Yazzie. He says, "hey cousin! I just came! Boy, and now you're going home!" he says to me. So I guess from there he joined our outfit, I guess he went to Tientsin, China - occupation service. He's the one that never says that "I'm a Code Talker." He says, "I've never been a Code Talker." He's true about it. And he wears a badge--patch--3rd Marine Division patch.

Carol Fleming:

And he said he never was--

John Kinsel:

He never was, and I know he wasn't because he just came as a replacement. All these guys that--at that time, in the later part of '45, I guess--they came in, they weren't Code Talkers.

Carol Fleming:

So did you go back into--then you went back to duty after the hospital?

John Kinsel:

Yes, yes, this is why I got back to duty and stayed for another two weeks, and then boarded ship again and started coming back.

Carol Fleming:

By that time was your ankle--

John Kinsel:

Everything was okay.

Carol Fleming:

Everything was okay?

John Kinsel:

But boy, these other guys that came back from Iwo Jima, ______. I think that we didn't lose very many guys - maybe one or two at that time. I didn't see anybody besides me, I think I was the only one that got out of there. If somebody was wounded, too, I could've run into him in the hospital, but I didn't. And there were all kinds of guys over there - Army, Air Force, Navy. There was a nurse that would fly back and forth to Iwo Jima and bring all those wounded. I saw her in the paper one time - an old lady, I don't know whether she's still living or not, but she's about the same age as I was, I guess.

Carol Fleming:

She was a nurse?

John Kinsel:

[nods head] On the way back, it took us about 20 days to get to Hawaii. Big long ship coming, kind of narrow, maybe three decks.

Carol Fleming:

What was the name of it, do you know?

John Kinsel:

I don't know. It was an Army ship, but there was a lot of us, a lot of us. We caught coal on the way, somewhere between Guam and Hawaii - coal. And then when we got to Hawaii they told us, "you guys can go on liberty, eight hours, come back tonight because we're going to take off sometime--ten o'clock tonight." So this is when Bill and I took off, we went down to Honolulu.

Carol Fleming:

What did you do?

John Kinsel:

This is where we took pictures! We took pictures, and then we got a stateside haircut, and we bought some clothes. I bought some Levi's over there, a shirt, and a hat--things like that. We got stuff over there so when we got back over here--three more days, I think, and we got back over here to the United States. And then they gave us a 30-day furlough. We were aboard ship--all of us aboard ship, all the guys--the way they hauled us down to San Diego, they hauled us back the same way, it was all kinds ______. I got to Gallup, and there was a priest and a nurse that I know, they were from here--she was a field nurse here. There was a priest down there at the church, I guess they stayed together like this [gestures at two of his fingers], you know worked together? They're the ones that met me. John says, "Are those your parents?" I said, "Do I look like a white man? That's a priest and that's a nurse." The nurse was a redhead. So I got back on the--I guess my ma, she was _____ getting together with my ma--she told them to pick me up. Because I already wrote in a letter that I was coming that day. No transportation, I had to go all the way around Ganado, and through here - from round right up to here, way down that hill [points out window] I got off. It was about six or seven miles down that way [points outside] where my mom was. I had a suitcase about this big [gestures with hands], I had some cigarettes in that, and some little things. I had a rope around it, and I carried that thing all the way. I knew where they lived, because we used to live down there before I went to war, so I knew where they lived. But I stopped at my uncle's place first. And I was sitting on top of that hill there for a while, I saw those people--a lot of activity going on down there, my grandfather, and my uncle, and his kids, and my nieces, and all those kinds of people over there. So I walked over there a little ways, I guess I really looked strange or something. My uncle says, "Who are you?" He called my name--he was chopping wood--"hey, is that you!?" He threw that axe away, and "hey! All of you, this is him!" Everybody ran out here, and [makes hugging motion with arms] he hugged me, and everybody cried, and everything, you know? So they fed me right there, I left my suitcase over there. And then my mom lived about a mile and a half down that way, so he told one of the guys "get the horse, and put that suitcase on it and take it back over there." [laughs] The boy couldn't pick it up, so I went over there and picked it up and hung it on the horse, and we took off. That was the best day of my life, when I saw my mom. She's never said--all the time, she thought I would come back. The medicine man, too, and when they had the ceremony for me, he said "you're going to come back, all in one piece." And it was true, too. That same day, she went out and got that man again. The next day, he had a ceremony for me again - it was sort of like initiating me back to this land, to the people. But I guess I'm sort of like some kind of infection, you know? The way I'm the war man [points at chest], I've been over there, and seen people get killed and all this stuff. So the next 30 days I've been withdrawing myself, meeting my people, eating Navajo food, and all that stuff - mutton. Boy, that was good, but 30 days later I went back to San Diego, they assigned me duty - guard duty right there at the Navy base east of San Diego. There's a Navy yard there - dry docks and all of that. I was added to one company, it was A Company, and there's a B Company on that side. I saw two Navajos on B Company, and I was by myself here. That's where I learned how to ride a bike, too. I never rode a bike before, but they would patrol with bikes. Instead of taking it patrolling, I started using that thing to ride around, and pretty soon I got used to it. And every night--every day when I'm guarding I would ride that thing around. And that was it, when I got discharged I forgot about how to ride, never rode another bike after that. I ride a horse [laughs].

Carol Fleming:

Do you still ride a horse?

John Kinsel:

Yeah, that one out there [points out the window]. And, so this is January 22nd--no, January 1st, 1946, they gave us our discharge papers. Happy New Year! Happy New Year everybody. They took us back to the train station, I had my sea bag with me on my shoulder, I plum forgot about it. Then I board ship, when I came back over here in Gallup there was something I missed, "hey, I missed something." When I got back home, I remembered my sea bag. So I came out here, I used Father's phone, I called down there, he says "it's the only one that's still laying in the warehouse over here, it's got a diamond on it, and there's a middle '89' on it. Yeah, it's still here." So two days later, when I got my muster-out pay, $100, I went back down there and got my sea bag back. You know what I had? A bunch of cartons of cigarettes - ______, Lucky Strike, Chesterfield. And out here - no cigarettes, nothing. They had to dry the tobacco, shave it, and smoke it. And here I had about 20 cartons of cigarettes. I came back up here and I gave one to my grandfather - he's an old man [points upwards]. "Here Cheii, you want a smoke?" [makes hugging motion] He cried, you know? "That's what I want."

Carol Fleming:

You were talking more about Iwo Jima and about the ceremony--

John Kinsel:

--oh this--this Japanese guy talked good English, very good. I understand that some of them went to school in Chicago, Los Angeles, UCLA - like that man, Yamamoto, he had been out here. He knew the whole time, "you're not going to win the war," but the only nation they could fight is the Americans, so they lost the war, it came out true. Oh, let's get back to this young guy. The lieutenant says, he asks the communications officer, "say! What kind of language were you guys using?" He says, "None of your business, get out of here." So that's the only prisoner I saw, besides--there was three of them. But two days before, I and another guy were digging around in the bush over there trying to find some souvenirs, we heard something moving back there in the bush. "Hey, you better check on it, what's that?" Pretty soon--I was over here--and he came out with big eyes, "Jap!" he says. So we went--it so happened that he crawled out of that bush, and his leg was no good, this side [rubs inside of thigh] - gangrene. So he went back over there, and a whole bunch of guys came over here and picked him up and took him over there, and chopped his leg off for him. But that night he found a Ka-Bar knife somewhere and killed himself. So that's the only one I seen. And then at Guam, in the prison camp there, I only saw one woman--one woman over there, and maybe six prisoners besides her - other than that, nothing. At Iwo Jima I didn't see no live Japs [sic], all I saw was dead ones. And this first place, too, the first place at Iwo Jima, the Japanese started throwing rockets. They were big, they had a plank leaning up like that [moves hand in roughly 45-degree motion], and you'd hear that thing, "ORRNT!" Everybody takes off [covers head with his hands], and boy it shakes the whole island like that. Rockets - they were from here to that long [gestures across the room]. Boy, they were terrible. And then I just read--and like I said, I only spent seven days on the island--after they raised the flag, we saw that. But it was not the original flag that we saw, it's the re-enacted one. And then Ira Hayes was part of that, and they made a hero out of him, a celebrity out of him. These are the things that shouldn't have been told, because the guy that first took the picture--and the flag was about that long and that wide [gestures with his hands]--the guy that took that picture never got anything out of it, never got recognition, not even a mention. Rosenthal - he's the one that took it all, because he took pictures--he actually took four pictures, and the one they chose is in Washington. So that's what I mean about telling the truth. And when that flag was raised, too, they say that it was radioed in Navajo - I didn't hear it. We were aboard ship, all packed, ready to go over the side, and we saw that flag up there. It was maybe one of the re-enacted ones, it was about 10 o'clock in the morning, and the other one was raised already about 8:30 somewhere. They had to--this guy that sent the flag up there went on and looked for another one, he wanted a bigger one. So there were some Seabees on the beach there, and they gave him that flag and he took it up there, and they changed it. He wanted that flag back--that little one--it's also in Washington right now, displayed down there. The general said, "I don't want nobody to run off with that one, it's a souvenir, I want to take it back to Washington." So that's where it is now.

Carol Fleming:

So the real flag was a small one?

John Kinsel:

Yeah, a small one - the original one. And of course the flag-raisers--three of them got killed, two of them got wounded, one ______+. So they never mentioned anything. Now they say that there's some Indians up there, on the Canadian border with Washington State and Montana - right there in the "T" [makes a T gesture with his hands], right there - there's some Indians living up there. That Indian kid was the one that got killed in there. They've been razzing we shouldn't be even taking the hero role. Because of course Ira Hayes, he's a Pima, he _____ down there, and they've got a memorial for him over there, too. And this is what they made [points at medallion around his neck] - his image.

Carol Fleming:

Oh, that's his image right there? What is that?

John Kinsel:

This is a Code Talkers [stands and shows medallion around his neck to Fleming]--

Carol Fleming:

And that's where you--where did you get this? Oh, you bought it?

John Kinsel:

No.

Carol Fleming:

It was given to you?

John Kinsel:

It was given to us, that was after the 4th Marine Division reunion, after they declassified the Code.

Carol Fleming:

Oh, so that was back in the early 70s maybe?

John Kinsel:

'69.

Carol Fleming:

Oh, uh-huh.

John Kinsel:

That's when I got this one.

Carol Fleming:

So that was your first big award?

John Kinsel:

Big award, yeah.

Carol Fleming:

Well let's talk about when you got back, and actually let's talk about when you went to school, when you were a little boy.

John Kinsel:

Alright. I was born over this mountain [points to his front], called Coal. And then we started moving that way, there's a section of the mountain like this [gestures with his hand], we went up there and moved out. I guess that's where--we separated from there with my grandparents, my father's parents. My mother's family was over here [gestures behind him with hand], and I was just a little boy when we came out here. Then I just--it seemed like we had a lot of family, and they sort of just shuffled me around, like "go over there, and stay over there for about a week, and then go over here about maybe a month, and then come back over here" - just like that. Most of the time I was with my grandfather, my mom would come around to take me home, but then they would come around and take me another place. [laughs]

Carol Fleming:

Why was that?

John Kinsel:

I don't know, it was just like that. So sometimes I say, "thanks for doing that for me, because you guys just toughened me up." The other thing is, I would do a lot of things, like I said, I would chase horses, herd sheep, carry water, and all that stuff, chop wood, ride a horse--not a horse, but I had donkeys--and we used to ride donkeys all the time and have fun. Those donkeys are just like dogs, they follow the sheep, too, so you would just get on it and ride around with no bridle or anything. You could play around with them, and they like kids. And, well, one day I was herding sheep--my grandpa used to have almost 1,000 head of sheep, like I said, down this way [points out window]. There was no home--maybe one down there [points in front of himself], one here [points behind himself and to the right], one all the way over there [points behind himself and to the left]--all together they were about four or five miles apart. And maybe just about nine families, but there was a lot of sheep, my grandfather had a lot of sheep. I was about five and a half years old, I guess, somewhere. I was herding sheep again, and when I was a kid I used to have problems with trachoma - my eyes were red, and dirt just goes into my eyes and it was hard to see. And one time, my grandfather says, "hey, come here." And he sat down, and he had a blanket on, and he says, "sit right here." So I was a big boy, you know, and he says, "John, what do you want to do? You going to continue herding those sheep? By the way, how many of them belong to you?" he says. I said, "I don't know." And then after a while he says, "why are you following the sheep? If the sheep don't belong to you? You don't follow a herd of sheep unless you own it," he says. "I'll tell you what," he says, "you want to go to school?" "Yeah," I says, "I'll go to school." So that following summer, I guess I got to--they had a day school here, they called them Red House, Two Red Houses they called them. There was one teacher, one for the dining room, and shower room, and whatever. Classroom, one teacher, and on the other side was the teacher's quarters, she lived in the House too, Two House. And he took me over there, and he lived right across there [points out window to his left], from there. Of course, there were always bullies, they would pick on me. And he heard me crying, and he gets on his horse over here, and boy! He chased everybody around, and he said, "I'm going to whup you guys! You going to make my son cry?" and boy he got after them. Yeah, there was always bullies, you know? All along like that. One year with about 15 other kids, one teacher. You'd change clothes, and you had some short cut pants for us, and we'd put it on and go to school. We would go to school for three, four hours, I guess. I didn't know nothing, I didn't learn anything. So the following year, he sent me to Fort Defiance. And Fort Defiance was another one--a different one, a rough one, too. It's a government school - boy! These disciplinarians - dorm matrons, they were mean! And then there were bullies again. We would go to the dining room, and you know what we would eat in the morning? Oatmeal, with two spoons of syrup, we just mixed it up, and then probably half a slice of bread, that's all we'd take. Hungry, cold, and then we would wear those corduroy clothes--jackets. And then on Sunday, they'd dress us up like the military - short pants and Army uniform jackets, and the cap. We would go down to church like that. Two years I was there. [shakes his head]

Carol Fleming:

What about--did you speak English then?

John Kinsel:

No, that's what I'm trying to tell you, I'm trying to get to it. I probably didn't know as far as "one, two, three, four, five" - that's about all. And I probably just knew "yes" and "no." And in school we'd sing, and out of that I grew into a pretty good singer, never did it again. So two years I've been there, and then the third year, 1929--see I had been over there since 1927--1929, I told my grandfather "take me down to St. Michael's." It's about eight miles down that way [points in front of himself] with those nuns, same ones as St. Catherine's in Santa Fe. I went to school there, still having problems to learn English, you know? And finally, I saw those nuns--those teachers, nuns--they were always praying, running around praying early in the morning. And then they would send us to church and we would sing over there, and also pray over there. That's why I started picking up the lingo - I learned how to pray, and learned how to sing. Pretty soon, I guess I was a pretty good singer, and they put me on the choir. So I really knocked myself out up there, you know? Then I started learning how to talk in English.

Carol Fleming:

And where--? [looking at photograph of Marine Corps recruit training platoon]

John Kinsel:

1942, San Diego.

Carol Fleming:

And where are you, John?

John Kinsel:

Right here. [points at Marine on far right of bottom row in photograph] [switches to photograph of three Marines in Hawaii on R&R] That guy's still living [points to Marine on right of photograph], and me, too [points to himself on left side of photograph]. I don't know about him, but he used to be a radio man [points to Marine kneeling at bottom of photograph]. [switches to photograph of Kinsel in his Navajo Code Talkers Association uniform holding his Congressional Silver Medal in its box] 2002, I think, over in Window Rock.

 
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