WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — A Navajo Code Talker who used his native language to outsmart the Japanese in World War II has died in New Mexico, Navajo Nation officials said.
David Patterson Sr. died Sunday in Rio Rancho at age 94 from pneumonia and complications from subdural hematoma. Few Navajo Code Talkers are still alive.
Patterson and hundreds of other Navajos trained in radio communications were prohibited from talking about their work until it was declassified in 1968. Although Patterson couldn’t say much, one of his sons said he was proud of being a Code Talker.
“He attended as many Code Talker events as he could,” Pat Patterson said. “It was only when his health started to decline that he didn’t attend as many.”
Patterson served in the Marine Corps from 1943 to 1945. He and other Navajos followed in the footsteps of the original 29 who developed the code and received the Congressional Silver Medal in 2001. During the war, they radioed messages using Navajo words for red soil, war chief, braided hair and hummingbird, for example.
After his military service, Patterson became a social worker with the tribe’s Division of Social Services until retiring in 1987.
He raised his family in Oklahoma, California and Shiprock, New Mexico. He is survived by six children.
Pat Patterson told the Farmington Daily Times that his father moved to Rio Rancho in 2012 to live with his youngest son. He said his father was a devoted Catholic who loved bingo, baseball and bowling.
Funeral services will be held Thursday at Christ the King Catholic Church in Shiprock, New Mexico. Burial will be at the Shiprock cemetery.