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"I want to show you, I’m going to join the Marines, because I’m old enough!" (Video recording, 1:57)

   Thomas H. Begay
Collection image
Thomas Begay at time of interview
War: World War, 1939-1945; Korean War, 1950-1953
Branch: Marine Corps; Army
Unit: 5th Marine Division
Service Location: United States; Iwo Jima; Pacific Theater; also: Fort Benning, Georgia; Korea
Rank: Corporal
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Thomas Begay was born in a traditional hogan in a remote area near Two Wells, New Mexico in 1927. The exact date of his birth was not recorded. He persuaded a Marine Corps recruiter to allow him to enlist when he was most likely just sixteen years old, helped by the fact that--in Begay's words--"my age was flexible." Soon after turning eighteen, Begay found himself on the front lines in the midst of apocalyptic combat on Iwo Jima. Begay was discharged from the Marines in 1946, but a year later joined the Army, with whom he again experienced intense combat in Korea, including at the Chosin Reservoir in late 1950. Begay later worked as an employment assistance officer and senior administrator for the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Navajo reservation.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (11 clips)
» Part 1 
Download: video (51 min.)
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (11 items)
Not being able to get a job in Flagstaff due to his age; growing up in the Checkerboard area of New Mexico. (02:12) Enlisting in the Marine Corps; going to boot camp in San Diego; not liking the food at boot camp. (03:10) Going to Camp Pendleton for Code Talker training; not wanting to be a Code Talker initially; learning the Code with ease; being forbidden from talking to the press. (02:13)
Constant improvement of the Navajo Code; difficulty in getting new Code terms to forward deployed Code Talkers due to secrecy. (01:12) Amphibious assault on Iwo Jima; setting up communications nets for the battle; two Code Talkers killed, three wounded on first day; they had no bodyguards as depicted in the movie Windtalkers; being afraid, seeing dead bodies; Code Talkers sending 800 messages without a mistake. (04:28) Gives examples of the spoken Code; explains how the Code operated. (03:36)
Explains how 5th Marine Division employed Code Talkers; Lieutenant General Keller E. Rockey as commanding general; being shown in official photographs of the Battle of Iwo Jima; Major Howard Connor, communications officer for 5th Marine Division. (02:58) Significance of Navajo Code Talker Association insignia; role of medicine men in Navajo society; traditional Navajo religious ceremonies approved by the VA as treatments. (02:44) Returning to the U.S. after the war; having to keep the Code secret; ideas of patriotism, national unity; high unemployment after the war, especially among Native Americans; going to school at Sherman Institute in Riverside, California. Joining the Army; becoming a paratrooper. (04:53)
Writing songs in Navajo about the war and the military; demonstrates his songs about Iwo Jima and Pearl Harbor; dedicating a memorial on Saipan. Going back to Iwo Jima in 1995, wife sang national anthem on top of Suribachi. (05:50) Explains the significance of the Code Talkers uniform; segregation in the military. (04:00) 

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  October 26, 2011
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