Educator, father, grandfather and respected elder, Samuel Tso, passed away May 9 in Farmington, New Mexico at age 89. One of the founding members of the Navajo Code Talker Foundation and its Vice President for more than 10 years, Tso, of Lukachukai, Arizona, was a Code Talker in World War II.
Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly ordered the Navajo Nation flag flown at half-staff from May 10 through May 14 to honor Tso for his service to the Navajo Nation and his country in World War II.
“The Navajo Nation has lost another Code Talker and that saddens my heart. The Code Talkers have brought great pride to our Nation and the loss of Samuel Tso saddens not only myself, his loss saddens the Navajo Nation. On behalf of the First Lady, the Vice President, and the Navajo people, we offer our prayers, condolences and words of encouragement to the Tso family. Samuel Tso was a true Navajo warrior,” said President Shelly in a press release.
Yvonne Murphy, Secretary of the Navajo Code Talkers Foundation, wrote in an e-mail that, “The Navajo Code Talkers Foundation has lost a treasured member of its board of directors. Mr. Tso ardently advocated to preserve the history and legacy of the Navajo Code Talkers and was determined to witness the final construction of the National Navajo Code Talkers Museum and Veterans Center. He envisioned the museum to be a vehicle for educating future generations, nationally and internationally, of the Navajo Code Talkers’ unique ‘secret weapon’ of military warfare communications developed using the Navajo Language. His fight to keep America free during World War II will forever leave an indelible mark in American history. Mr. Tso’s legacy and story will be forever remembered.”
Being a Code Talker and sharing the important part that American Indians played in winning World War II was vitally important to Tso, said his son Ronald. “Dad was interviewed in 1995 by National Geographic for a documentary film for the 50th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima, where Dad fought as a part of the Fifth Marine Recon Division.”
In an account from that time, which Tso often told, he and another member of the unit were sent to search for machine gun emplacements. He was fearful and had a dream in which he saw a woman in buckskin. She gave him a necklace made of cedar beads and told him not to be afraid, because the necklace would protect him. On the day of the mission, Tso received a letter with no return address. It was a cedar bead necklace.
“After he received that,” continues his son, “He had no fear, because he knew he would be protected. They went in and got there during a time when the Japanese machine guns were quiet. They got there unscathed, got the artillery called in, and got back out of the area safely.”
Tso’s daughter-in-law Danita Washington says that Tso was an inspiration to many. “Samuel was an educator foremost, because he believed that without an education, no one could go anywhere. Samuel was the first in his family of 13 children to go to school and into the military. All the young ones aspired to be like grandpa, because of his military service and encouragement of them to go to school. Many of his children, nieces and nephews went into the military because of him. Same way with education – many are teachers or in medical fields. He’s leaving a wonderful legacy.”
Samuel Tso was born June 22, 1922, at Black Mountain near Many Farms, Ariz. He was Zuni Tachiinii and born for Nakai Dine’e. According to Ronald Tso, Samuel received a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Utah State University. He taught at Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City, Utah, and was a teacher supervisor and principal at Lukachukai Boarding School. He also received a Master’s degree from Arizona State University.
Funeral services took place May 16 with a Catholic mass at St. Isabel Catholic Church in Lukachukai, followed by a military service at the church’s cemetery. He is survived by son Ronald Tso and daughter Yvonne Tso, three grandchildren and five great grandchildren.