Joe Morris Sr. in 2007
"My weapon was my language," World War II Marine veteran Joe Morris Sr. told a crowd of nearly 200 in a San Bernardino park on Veterans Day in 2004. "We saved a lot of lives."
Morris, one of the Navajo code talkers whose use of their native language in transmitting messages successfully thwarted Japanese code breakers in the Pacific during World War II, died Sunday at the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial VA Medical Center in Loma Linda of complications of a stroke, said his daughter, Colleen Anderson. He was 85.
In a 2003 interview with the Navajo Times, Morris said they were told "if you get captured by the Japanese don't you ever tell them what you learned here."
If captured, Morris said, their instructions were simple: "Just die for your country."
Morris was born April 19, 1926. As the eldest of four children, he tended his parents' sheep and horses on the Navajo reservation, which he once described as a place where there was "no electricity, no running water, no school."
At age 12, he was sent to a government boarding school 70 miles away, where he learned English. Morris returned to the reservation after the school was closed during the war and turned into an internment camp for Japanese Americans.
He was barely 17 in 1943 when he went to the local draft board and said he was 18 in order to obtain a draft registration card, which was required to be hired for a job.
He had been working in an Arizona ore mine a few months when he was drafted. He credited a Navajo medicine man with keeping him safe during the war.
"He prayed a day and a half for me," Morris recalled in a 1998 interview with the Modesto Bee. "He said, 'Grandson, you will be safe, and you will come back so you can tell me all that happened.' "
There's a helluva lot of history in that quote.
Walk in beauty, Joe. Semper Fi.