tv Oral Histories Navajo Code Talker Samuel Jesse Smith Interview CSPAN April 14, 2019 11:05am-12:01pm EDT
training and those who came out the other end that job was to be a code talker. >> thank you for being with us. more from his documentary and his interview with samuel jesse decode talkers. >> i joined the marine corps because of what happened at pearl harbor. a sneak attack. i'm arizonan. they sent the uss battleship arizona and two other ships, i think the missouri and i forget the other one, oklahoma. and the way the japanese came sunday morning when people were in churches, that kind of teed me off. and, as the days went, i was only 15 then, 14. somewhere i had to, i
wanted to join the marine corps right away, because i had seen the marines in the movies, what they had been doing. and, of course, i was, i had the knowledge of the war going on in europe, too. but the sneak attack was the one that really got to me. and i wanted to be a pilot for the marine corps. so, i joined, two of us, two other people joined. judge them was a tribal that passed away not too long ago. and the other one is a doctor, the late president of
the code talker association. those two were my buddies. i went with them. they were accepted. i was denied on account of my age. but after i walked outside, i came back inside and told the recruiter i made a mistake about my birth year. so, he let me change it. but he said he would let me finish the 11th grade. so, i did. after school let out, all three of us, we went, and we went down to san diego at the boot camp, which they said was pretty tough, but it wasn't. the only tough thing about the
boot camp was the drill sergeant made me dry shave in front of the platoon. that was the tough part of it. otherwise, it was pretty good. when we finished boot camp, we take tests and we are given a chance to do -- we can serve. so, i signed up for air wing. i passed the aptitude test, but they came back and told me i had no diploma. that denied me the chance. and the next thing i wanted to do was do real damage to the japanese, so i chose artillery. and by that time, they were working on it. one of them came back and asked
me if i was a navajo. i said, yes, sir. i said. and then he said, get your c-bag, we have a job for you. i got in the jeep, and he took me to camp pendleton. i did not have a choice after that. that was where i found a whole bunch of indians in one barracks. and that was the navajo code training school that they were going to have there. and, as the days went along, we were starting to train the navajo code, some of them were failing. so they were taken out. and they found out, some of those indians were not navajos. so they were taken out, reassigned someplace else. only a few were left that took, i
think he was one of them. that was my reason for joining the marine corps. i wanted to get even with the japanese. very, very bad. and, of course, i was sorry about not being accepted in the air wing. but to take the navajo code training did not matter much to me, except that it wasn't hard, either. we had to memorize and learn a semaphore, morse code, and blinkers. we had to learn all of those things because we couldn't be mixed with the white
and us. i was doing all of that, plus when i had to do the navajo code -- which was to my opinion was a magnificent piece of work, because i learned how to use the machine and cypher, decipher messages which took a long time. but doing the navajo code was a quick thing that, i was in charge of the navajo code talkers with the fourth marine division. i think that must have
been on account of the evaluation of the tests that we were given before we were chosen to go with the fourth marine division. i was placed with the general, right next door to a g-2 and the general. and that's where all things went wild, because radar battalion come by. and, smith, you go with them, and that was my job. and some other people. something is not going right up front. some maroons in the group coming by, and i'm smith, you go with him. that was the way i was volunteered. [man laughs] and that was a problem on iwo jima. i had a lot of close shaves on iwo jima. but
i was disappointed, too. a rough looking island i think theyuse -- something on that island. the mountain did not look so rough this time. it was smooth. and the same morning we had kind of bothered me because that was the first time i had attended the ceremony with the japanese on the others and us on this side, and it bothered me. there was one japanese carrying a machine gun there. that bothered me a lot. but it, i got over it,
as we had our lunch there. and then, after all the talks i didn't understand what they were saying, but i know what our side said for the ceremony. and so, i'm kind of getting over my attitude towards the japanese. and i figure this will heal my nightmares and all those things that i have suffered. i have because toe, a big to, i had nightmares and good thing i was laying away from my wife. i hit the wall and busted my big toe. i went to the hospital. they told me i'm too old to fix. let it be the way it is. so,
that is, i'm glad to be here and sharing with you my story. and i'm going to thank you right right away for the food. [laughter] >> because i know you just met these people, but jesse has been on this journey with his son here. i wondered if not only revisiting the battlefield but with your son, is there anything you wanted to tell the colonel about that experience? >> well, naturally, i'm very proud of my son. he's an outstanding marine himself with the all indian platoon 1982?
he brought home to our navajo nation parade in the fall. and a whole marine corps followed him. they followed that indian platoon. they brought their white horses. it was really neat to see a whole bunch of marines there in their blues, because he got his blues free. [chuckles] being the honor of the platoon. i'm proud of him. and he's the a lot of help to the group that is making the tour. in october, he was a lot of help. right now he is, too. i'm glad
to -- and also, i never talked like this to my children. but he's learning what i did and, hopefully, he will tell his brothers and sisters some day. indians do not talk about wars and i found out that the white people don't, either. they do not talk about wars. i've got this info from other people that i have met on the trips anywhere. this division was called the and we didvision, the marshall islands first, and
later iwo jima. we were based on the maui island in honolulu. since i am a volunteer, that short period, two years, nine months is all i served. i had enough points, enough battles to get out at v-j day, on october 3, 1945 was when i was sailed back to san diego. >> you are watching interviews with former world war ii navajo code talker samuel jesse smith conducted between 2004 and 2006 for a documentary project " journey of remembrance." the interviews took place at his home on the navajo nation in arizona and on the pacific
island battlefield where he traveled with other code talkers and their families. >> yeah, i came in the second day with the signal, part of the signal company, the men. to set up a command post and be near the g-2. g-2 is the people that plays with the packs. regiments, three regiments in one division. they are the ones that move the pegs. and make the troup movements or make requests for additional troops and all that. and where i hit the beach, i don't know where it was. but, as soon as we got on the land, there was some buildings. and
they said that was the banks. and i believe that because there was money all over, on the ground. yens. japanese yen, which was no good to us. so, and then there was what looked like had been a drugstore that was there. that is where we set up of course we have to be looking for snipers. but we set up the communication center right there, and i noticed the next an attack thatas they had made by the japanese. they were picked up real quick. they'd done that three times and then everything went quiet. and
then i found, looking around, i found some navajos, that code talkers. they came out over and i don't remember which one it was that butchered a goat. so we had a feast there. that was about the fourth day. and they were getting quite down. we had feast on mutton. we had not tasted mutton for a long time. we helped ourselves to it. that is about all the remember -- all i remember till we left, pick and leave. i did not get to see the general there. i don't know where he was. i didn't ask; but the other communication people were there and i did not make
any trips. usually, i do, like on saipan, at one turn, they said all of the communication system was knocked out, so i had to carry a message on foot. and they told me where the cp position was, but it wasn't there. i had to look around to find it. but not here, not on -- i didn't do much, except when requests, i would receive a message or send a message. i don't remember the content of the messages. they were all important messages, i know. but
it got to -- and that is about all i can tell you. i was only getting $50 a month. [laughter] >> that was combat pay, right? one of the questions i said before albert came back that those of us who read the history of the battle of saipan know what a ferocious battle it was. it was much longer than anticipated. i was just inquiring about your physical and mental health at the time, when they load you out and they say, there is another battle three miles away. it's a long time. you didn't really remember. how about you? did you remember how fit you were? >> being young and knowing that you are in a war, you don't feel those things. you aren't sorry
about being tired or anything. you are never tired and you do not care to sleep. for nights till you're given the opportunity. usually from your partner on a radio set. he can say, go ahead, sleep a little bit. we take turns. sleep a little bit. 30 minutes, that's an f to go another two or three nights. that is the way it is being young and knowing that you are in a combat and you want to do things, to save your life. >> so your physical health was good. as you recall, your mental health was ok despite what you had seen over there? >> yeah, everything was ok until you get out of it. when you
really relax and that is far from the battlefield. yeah. that's the way it was with me. i don't know about these other two. i think they were the same way. because we came here to fight. and i didn't know, we fought a weak army. i don't believe these things, i read them, they have the pictures in there. the explanations on these things. i don't care for it. because i know i had been there. on the other books maybe they are the same way. >> any kind of personal feelings about being here on this trip, and any particular feelings it might generate in you? >> i don't have any feelings.
the way we were accepted from the people and how much they part ofted that we were the main people that helped liberate people here. so, it makes me feel good that they are saying thank you for what we did. i'm a little more prouder to hear them than getting the congressional, congressional don't mean nothing to me. but it is the people that show their appreciation and thanking you that makes a lot of difference. that's the real thing. and that's the way it was when i got home from the war, after i got
discharged. it was to show my grandpas i had been a warrior, and that i had returned to them to show them that i am now a man to them. because they said a prayer for me before going overseas, before going into service. my grandpa did a ceremony for me. he told me i was still a pup. not yet a man. he joked to me about some, a lot of things. i joked with him, too. but i told him, "grandpa, go ahead and do the ceremonial for me. these other things that you think was important, i can get them on the way.
that was what i told him. so, the ceremony continued. and the prayer continued. and i was dressed in armor, because he told me that he would make me a warrior. and some things happen to me in battle, and i will give him credit for it. it saved my life. i was with the general. i was next door to the general. the safe that was place to be, with the general, but it wasn't. because when we hit the beach here, the general wanted to come in write away and we came in about third wave with me as being part of the armed, the ga uard to the general, also. plus my own work as a warrior. plus doing the navajo code. but the
first two or three things, we didn't have to use the code to send messages as i figured that everything was prepared to go so long. the plan was made to go so long. and the only thing i did here was to send, change the password. i send it out to all the units, the regiments. out to all the units, the regiments, and passed it down to the battalions. that was my job the first two or three days. i don't remember or recognize the beach because at the time, it didn't matter to
me. the only thing that mattered was to get on the beach and get even with the japanese. it was on my mind all the time. we went they 200 or 300 yards, and and is later, they start shoveling our place. they located the general's position somehow. and started for the evening the general thought he had a foxhole by himself. two minutes or maybe less than cussingtes, i hear him
underneath those guys. but what scared me was gasoline near us. hard that hoping real they won't hit the gas. ignite.ould happen to i remember, i thought i would be staying with the general but every once in a while, they kept the wildlife leaders, but we should find out something up ahead. so i was always one of them that would go up ahead with my radio, but i never carried a radio. i never carried a radio.
glad to be with all of you here to keep me strong. i love all of you here. thankful that my son to do thatwith me for me, so it's a blessing to be among you and treat me the way you are. i thank you for that very much. >> thank you. announcer: you are watching interviews with former world war ii navajo code talkers samuel jesse smith conducted between 2004 and 2006. for a documentary project. the interviews took place at his home on the navajo nation in arizona and on the pacific island battlefields where he traveled with other code talkers and their families. back,ing that trip going
i was never, ever going to go back. education,t was for and i decided that i would make the trip to go back and see how goinges out since we are to leave it behind us for the future generations. when i went back to these people, when i met the they look like us, and i never knew that when we went into that was my dislike for the japanese of what they did at pearl harbor. them,ed to get even with and i tried any way i could, i
didn't know i would be pushing talk.e i wanted to fly. .he a pilot but i was relieved a little bit after seeing the people and talking with them and being with them several days. i was somewhat relieved at that time. carrying my dislike for the japanese. i still don't like them. me.it took something out of the most was to defend my land , we say that
mother earth is our land. so, that's something that i have to defend. that was the reason why i went and chose the marine corps as i had seen a lot of newsreels. some other armed forces copied to the armytraining , but theratroopers marine is still the best one. once a marine, always a marine. >> what about your marine son who troubled with you, what kind of a lasting experience was that
for you? two rather interesting trips with him. how did that -- what long-lasting impact that have on you? >> i didn't get the question. the impact of having made these trips with your son. fortunateu were very to get the funding to take a young companion with you, your family. i just wondered how that had an impact on you and your son and your emily generally. well, my son is a good marine himself. , very, very him much. that he was the one with me on those trips.
so, i don't know when he got out of it but i'm glad he was the one that went. if i didn't, he would be the one to pass on my experience because interviews,on the or most of the interviews. .nd he'd know what i did wondered, coming back from the battlefield, have you found it easy to share the experiences of going back to the battlefield with family members? your daughter as well as everybody in this room. to it become easier for you tell the stories of the war because you've been back over there?
it's our tradition as the navajo not to talk about the wise, i'meducational glad to share it with them. or maybem the movie from my son. i should not talk about it, how we used the language. and the tradition at the time, hopefully it will continue. when i came home and told my , right away she somehow send word to my grandfather.
and my grandpa came to the ceremony. i went like they do, everybody that goes in the service went to war. andthat was what happened , he saidrandpa came grandson, you are not old enough to go to war. i said i want to go to war. i'm drafted by the united states government. navajothat time, the were really afraid of the government. uncle sam. so, my mother, she said if you are drafted, you go.
so she got my grandpa to do the i told mynd then grandpa the same thing. he said ok. warriorwill make you a so you can fight the japanese. and he did. to pray almighty from about 11:00 to about 4:00 in the morning. as he was praying, i was repeating after him all night to become a warrior. that's the tradition of the navajo. me to leave my , so when i wear the shirt, pants, shoes, everything,
she put that in a bundle so she can take it to some ceremony that is going on for the same reason. and all the time i was under service overseas, she was doing prayers for me. while i was over there. a blackpa gave me arrowhead to wear around my neck. that and the officers respect that while i was under service, they never took it out. i was in all the time combat until i got home. and when i got home, the same grandpa came back and before
that time, my dad was home when i got home. it's not welcome home with a array -- hooray. my relatives, my brothers and sisters, he said wait. and he took out a corn piling and alltook me inside the way around and took me back out and he did some prayer for and then he said now, go inside and shake hands. that is the tradition. that is the way to do it. night they had to chase away the evil spirits, and
that same grandpa came back. and that time, i got promoted. that night, i prayed all night. he said grandson, now you are a warrior. so i was promoted to be a warrior. i'm not a hero. like the government says. dals don't mean nothing to me but being a navajo and having a sense of my land , that's what i am, a warrior. that ishe tradition carried on. i don't know if they still do it now.
i would like for the future that.tion to respect >> well it sounded like to me this battered and bruised marine, after seeing all that death and destruction, comes back, and it was your culture tot made it possible for you get rid of the demons of war. so, your culture, very very important as far as coping with what you had seen on the battlefield, what i be correct in that? windows -- when those two come together, to have respect -- in otherition
words, doing it the right way. that's what happened. of course, my grandpa took off the arrowhead and the feather and i told him, i sit grandpa, i want to keep that one. and he told me, he said don't be selfish. this is going to go overseas again. and the other time i spoke to him, that feather had had gone overseas twice. that, he passed away, and no way of asking where that feather is. i don't know who took it. the traditional side of going into combat. outside, i was
raised like a boot camp when i was growing up. and together, early before campse, it was like a boot to be brought up that way from that high up. that's how i got to meet the difficulty.ith no the flying that we raised on at oure, we had that one office. nice to have it. >> so, even to this year, you still have feelings toward the
japanese that aren't good? >> yeah. once upon a time, i spoke to a medicine man and he told me to forgive them. i said no way. i'll stay the way i am. i still don't like them. i don't know why i have that feeling. had that feeling given to me when i was very young, 14 years old. harbor theit pearl way they did. stays, i don't know how to get rid of it. it always comes back to me. otherwise, going over these things was all right to do. like just anm
albuquerque or in phoenix, you see somebody that's oriental, you really don't know if they are japanese or not, you can just tell they are asian, do you have that same feeling? >> i just don't have nothing to do with them anywhere. i remember one time when we toched when i was still able get in the parade and march, that we come through washington, -- what do you call that, when the president takes over? wouldld come through, we pass a bunch of japanese, they were crying when they saw us. they were crying. i don't know why.
it's the only time we saw them. nowadays, people talk and autographing books and places. some of them cry, some women cry, older. and they thanked us for having saved their relatives, their grandpas or their uncles. that's a good feeling. but with the japanese, slant eye, i have nothing to do with them. but ashey are chinese long as their eyes are slanted. it's my feeling like that, i don't know. that was the bad part for the
iwo jima visit. for one ofknow that the scholarships, he wrote an essay and he applied for a peace and hehrough got the scholarship based on his essay and it's going to be published and it comes from an organization in santa fe. and he mentioned both you and me marines beingthe the reason why he would join any of the armed forces. it i think that was part of and that when you go to war and you experience these things, you have things that are inside you
that don't come out sometimes and he didn't want those that feelings, and that's what he put in. he respects his grandpa for being a navajo code talker and his dad for being a marine and his brother kevin for being a marine, but for him, he knows what it is through our stories, and so he would rather be working for peace instead of being part of the military. i think that for me, going back to you would jima , i think you will jim one that hit me the most, because when you go there, there's nothing there. and it's still the same things that it was back in world war ii which was an airbase.
development, the japanese are still occupying it. i think that's one of the things surprised me and that i is that thet know, united states gave the island and you hear all onee stories about it being of the battles that will live on in american history and you wonder why they gave back an island that so many americans lost their lives on. and, you know, i'm glad that you were a navajo code talker in iwo jima and because of the things that you guys did, you were able
to help the marine corps take the island. and i think that if it wasn't for you guys, there would have been a lot more people that lost their lives. and when i think about that, and when i went to visit the island, realize what ae significant contribution my father did for the united states. me, you boys, you have always been my heroes because you have always taken the time the things that i needed to know in order to grow and to be myself and i mean, everything that i know is rooted
from what you taught me as i was growing up. to me, you are always my hero. it wasn't until, i think, i had done the things in order to earn that respect from you to feel it come back towards me. but to think that the contribution that you did for the united states and for the marine corps and for our people, the navajo people, using our language and the things that you guys knew, it just makes me really proud and i know that your brothers and sisters are all proud of you as well. dad, it's just
unbelievable to know that you've done the things that you did in the marine corps. and when i heard you tell your generalen we were on cake in the fourth grade division and how you guys landed on saipan, and the things that you did there, it helped me to how special we are to have you and to have you as a father and to have you come back. i don't know, dad. it's just awesome. and i think like right now, i'm really grateful that i have this opportunity to tell you how i that peoplee i know
live their lives and they feel these things for their parents, and they never get the opportunity to tell them. and that's why i'm glad that i you went on this trip with decide 10 and iwo jima -- cap saipan and euro jima -- iwo jima. yeah, ithen you said was just some place that was way, way far away. here on there reservation, and this is home. but when you go out there, you don't realize how it is and how it was. after hearing you talk and
tell me the things that happened , it's just very significant, i think. and i'm grateful for that. >> thank you. announcer: you are watching american history tv. 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span3. follow us on twitter at c-span history for information on our schedule and to keep up with the latest history news. announcer: the c-span buses stopping at middle and high schools across the country to present the prizes and awards to the winner of our student cam video competition. throughout the month, you can see the top 25 winning entries every morning before washington journal and watch every when studentcam document three along with those honorably mentioned and the behind the scenes winners online at studentcam.org.
>> barbara bush had finally had enough. they were out of the white house, she did not need to bide her time anymore. she took offense at it. their work reporters at her door asking questions about it which was not true, that was just designed to give nancy reagan heartburn. reagan,said to nancy don't you ever call me again. and she hung up. announcer: this week on q&a, usa today washington bureau chief susan page on her biography of barbara bush, the matriarch. >> at the very beginning she said you will never see my diaries. cap at the bush library, but they are not available for public view. until 35 years after her death. and i thought that she was
unlikely to let me see her diaries. and at the end of the interview, she said you can see my diaries. and that was an incredible gift. announcer: tonight at 8:00 eastern on c-span's q&a. on lectures in history, with forced university professor john class on hows a the cold war both influenced and was influenced by photography. he talked about the perceived documentary nature of photography and how this idea was manipulated during the cold war. mccarthy's use, for example, a doctored photos during his anti-communist crusade or president kennedy's exposition of grainy photos to visit -- support his position against the soviets in the cuban missile crisis. he also discusses how artists used the ideological and the