tv Oral Histories Navajo Code Talker Keith Little Interview CSPAN April 7, 2019 10:50am-11:53am EDT
he was his endorsement of the project. project originated with his died and keith took it on. he was my rock. we went from there. he ran with that idea with a code talkers. >> what was it like to go back there for him and for you? >> for me it is the pinnacle of my career. i could never have gotten to places like iwo jima. for them going back was transformative. for me it was adventure and excitement, the thrill of doing seeut for them as you will it was transforming. thing to aclosest true documentary i've ever done. >> george cockburn, thank you
for walking by -- stopping by we appreciate it. >> in his own words, keith intle, navajo code talkers their own words here on american history tv. >> tell us about the land you and your family live on how much you have and how long you have been here. the livestock you have, what it .eans to you >> i came here a long time ago about 30 years ago. i got married to nelly. our parents were living over here. and wee both gone now had this land and we had some livestock on. cattle.e also some
acres, i never00 made it a point to measure it. it was about half a mile wide and the little over a mile long. we have a farm here, this is pasture land, all of it. we usually have a garden over here. the drought has been so severe lately that it takes a lot of water to raise corn. we raised livestock. all of our kids have been raised here.
my wife's brother and sister were all raised here. they are real close to this land. >> tell us about your extended family here. it is more than just you and nelly. five grownabout children all working somewhere. -- two of -- one of them is in flagstaff. and also i have some grandchildren in colorado springs. spread all over. originally i came from the western end of the navajo reservation. my family is over there, my relatives and brothers and sisters, my aunt, but they are
all gone. , few of them were still going. the younger children i don't even know all of them because there are too many to remember. here on the land you , does theghter daughter have a grandchild? daughter has great grandkids and they are both in school. the other daughter lives with us. she has five kids. they are all in schools. every one of them are doing something for themselves. some of them work on arts and
crafts to support themselves. it is that way. we are pretty well-established. we'll think about going off somewhere and thinking about someplace else. --we do we want to move back >> this is now our fourth day in talking to people about the importance of the land. particularly this beautiful , ittry, it is something seems to me more special than in other parts of the united states the you are attached to land and you stay there and children go off this going to --e back
the importance of the land in navajo culture, generally. does it mean you and your culture are somewhat united? that we were taught to respect the land. atmosphere, the sun, the moon, everything. more we think of it as guardians. natural guardians. is the most important element for our existence and survival. we stay pretty close to that. it is pretty spiritual to us.
to respect the land because we really exist on what that land gives us. our is our way of -- religion is that way it taught us to respect the nature. what it is going to do for you. your children grow up expecting your own traditions and customs should -- our religion, the spiritual theme that comes out of what we survive on. if you could think back to the days after the war and ,oming back to reservation land was that something that you thought about during the war? was that something you wanted to get back because of race special nature of this place. land --you are born on
that was the most important thing for us because we make use of the land. wen we went away to war always have that in our mind. and what we had done growing up. it becomes a part of you. , when youlook like are away from here, a lot of times sometimes you think about it. you think about your people and the land. the planting, the harvesting of -- arops, and you wonder
certain time of the year it is theydo certain things and wonder who is harvest in the corn or maybe they have a ceremony or something. we just imagine that -- coming back to the land from war is quite a spiritual thing. you were taught to respect the land, respect the nature. this is where we were raised. this is where our people emerged. , the way the creation story goes. the other religions has their deities and ours is that way.
>> the reason i ask that question is because, when you were on the trip with us, i think especially in okinawa, you look at the aerial photo of , devastated all vegetation gone. you talked to the guy at the peace parts your big point was the land has that musted there and mean something to the okinawa people. that is why i brought it up. guam had become so green there. and when he was there with the marines, and totally devastated it. that is not the way it is supposed to be. the environment is supposed to be green and supportive, those
of us who inhabit it. maybe you could just mentioned something about the trip, and when you saw those islands before, maybe you could tie the land, your land released in word -- your land believes in with the trip we took. keith: well, i would say the land over there, as you already mentioned, it was dilapidated, and that can make you sick. and going back to the land after 60 years, it is quite surprising i guess. in the way it looks, the way nothing in no way compared to what it was when we were there. at that time also, i did not
really realize that the natives there had gone through an ordeal that was uncalled for. and so going there and talking to those people, they look at the united states marine corps and many of the navajo code talkers that have been there, they think of them as somebody reverent, almost. of course they got their land back, and they have more freedom than they used to have. of course here we have that freedom over time, from the day -- freedom all the time from the , day we were born to the day we came
back, we still have freedom, so we want to hold on to that. so it means a whole lot to us to come back to this land, to our land, where we were raised. dr. colburn: well, i just want to ask you one last question about the sheep that we see off in the distance here and so on. do you raise it to sell, to butcher and use yourself for ceremony? tell us about your flock here. keith: well, the sheet, the -- the sheep the in particular, the sheep is the backbone of economics, of our economic survival. ever since we came back from captivity, and maybe even before that. and being raised, walking after sheep every day, may be
taking care of the horses, maybe taking care of the cattle, you kind of share with them into your heart, because that is the prime economic survival for our people. you pay for it. at that time, it paid for everything. everything that we do, the animals paid for it, so it is something that our prayers are tied to, and the almighty given things that we have, that we enjoy. dr. colburn: and so is this flock that we are seeing here help feed the family? keith: yes, it does. we were raised on mutton, and when on the way to overseas, i always kind of wished someday, the craving for that smell of
mutton, you cook it over hot -- over hot coal you just , imagine that, and you swallow your saliva and kind of get mad -- "why am i here?" -- and you come back, and it is something you appreciate, because you were raised with it. dr. colburn: sam said that some of his sheep are used in traditional navajo ceremony, and i just wondered if you use d that as well, or if you could mention it. keith: well, that is just a custom. everybody helped each other in a ceremony like that. if i want to, i will donate a head or two to the people that are having the ceremony. even a head of cattle sometimes.
dr. colburn: just one question, more about you. were you brought up on a farm, and did you do sheep herding as a young man, like i know many of you did? keith: yes. i would say we had a farm, but him him we were kind of nomadic people. we moved, moved, moved, for greener grass, better water, always for the animals to eat something good, we moved around and also keep the land from being overgrazed. and we had a farm. we would harvest everything that we can, and when we would make use of our animals, we would eat almost everything, so it is really part of it. dr. colburn: so you grew up with
those animals. keith: yes, walking after them, sleeping with them, sometimes, in the corral. [laughs] dr. colburn: what age where you when you went back to school? i think it was 37, was it? 36, 37? i mean, you left the sheep and went away to school. keith: i went away to school when i was about 10 or 12, somewhere. i left my home and went to school, because my brother came
february, but we do get snow sometimes in october. it is normal. usually we welcome it. we usually do appreciate the snow, because snow is something that moistens the ground a lot, a lot more than the rain does. the rain, when it rains hard, water runs off. the snow stays on all winter long. we welcome the snow. in fact, in order to welcome the snow, you are supposed to take your clothes off early in the morning, naked and wash ,yourself with it. and we were trained that way also. it is just part of the spiritual
training that we inherited. >> you were watching interviews with former world war ii navajo code talker keith little, conducted between 2004 and 2006, for a documentary project "navajo code talkers: journey of remembrance." the interview took place at his home on the navajo nation in arizona and on the battlefield. -- the pacific island battlefields where he traveled with other code talkers and their families. i keith: i am pleased to be here, and privileged. and come back. this is not the place that i fought. was about 100 miles north of here. but in comparison, i have always talked about the places that i have fought with my comrades, and at that time, the land, the communities, the homes were all shattered.
and then somehow or another, there were some ladies that survived. i remember them. they were being herded into a stockade and penned up, and one day i went over there and took a look, and i felt very sad, there were some kids in there with their parents, in the stockades. and i wondered how they fared out. i always wondered about that. i wondered how those people fared out, when their land was destroyed some of their homes were destroyed, everything that they had was destroyed. maybe they had livestock. maybe they had farms. and their way of life was completely destroyed, and they had to rebuild themselves back up.
and the development of their country. it is quite amazing to me, and so it brings back to me -- i wonder what guam looked like at that time, maybe in comparison to the navajo land, our land at home was not developed and was totally isolated from the outside world. so as a navajo code talker, i wonder about these things. i wonder if these people, they know what freedom means, the natives here, people here. and we also feel that way because we came into the picture as navajo marines, code talkers, not knowing anything about just -- about this world out here.
but that always sticks in my mind, and some of the things that i might see here , especially i think will relieve a lot of my attitude about the ordeals these people coming through. enthusiastic. maybe a little bit confused. i do appreciate coming back. ithink in a lot of ways touches every generation. from world war ii down to the thatnt time and the future what freedom is, what our land is and how we love our people and our families, our culture, and all the things we grew up with.
i think that should be very important to them as well as these people. experience ordeals. beings talked to each other and get along they don't have have wars and these people experienced some of the war, whatshment of more is. a lot of timesk little kids don't seem like they know nothing. a great grandchild wanted to , take itteddy bear with you grandpa. carry i can't go -- you that in your purse so that she can touch the land and take it
back. of healing of that power visiting where you fo -- we will let him touch the soil, take him back. that is the way i feel. i think the people that we do it for, the young kids that come with us should carry these andages to their families their schools and wherever they are. thank you. impression of my since 1945 back here , that was in 1944.
june, july, august of 1944. when i say 1945, i am also thinking of iwo jima, where we had our last battle. and along the way, you think about -- it is quite -- at that time, i was not too impressed with what i was doing. simply because i was -- most of us were just ordinary marines. ordinary soldiers trying to do his job. what the command wanted us to do accomplished certain things, objectives each day, each hour, and no matter how much you here,
their only give -- own native code they developed themselves in combat. to come over -- to overcome what was an obstacle in always that was prevalent -- in all ways that was prevalent, breaking each other's codes so you know what your enemy is doing. and our code was so uniquely devised that they never did. it was never deciphered. so the native people here on the marshall islands and in saipan, tinian, and iwo jima -- today, they are properly thankful that we have done such a thing. and with the atomic bomb, to
finish the job of killing other people, we had to do what had to be done, to use a thing, killing more people, so that they might begin to understand. each other. that war is a real dirty game. so i am very glad that i made the trip. sometimes i overcome a lot of mental anguish and mental desires and -- why do people have to kill each other? these native people, they want peace. they want to live their own style of life, and maybe we will get support from them in america to do that. thank you.
[inaudible] and where the long line of departure is going to be. where on the beach we are going to land. and i had no idea what kind of sees we were going to get, because at one time -- what kind of seas we were going to get, because at one time we had to wade through water about knee-deep. because of the reef. i was hoping that we would not hit something like that, but we did all right on saipan when we were landing. here, this was a question mark. it is always a question mark, because if you get stranded out there, you have to get out of the boat. your boat would be stuck if it
stopped. so you had to get out to save your life, and get away from the boat as fast as you can and get to the shore. and when you get to the shore, you don't rest, you go in as far as you can, even if you have no resistance at all. here it happened that way, everything went smoothly, like you were being delivered to a motel or something, you know? we ran up the beach, and in here somewhere, we wrestled them act there -- back there away. the sergeant in charge kept us going into we could find a little cover. if they were firing on us, we would have got it right there, coming in. because they had a good line of fire. i don't know.
we just felt that we did not get any resistance for a good quarter of a mile in. we had a lot of room to play with. that is where we stayed, until the line got lined up straight, and the man takes over. each unit has to move in the same way, with the unit on the left and the unit on the right. and how far they want to move -- they control that. if you run into resistance of any kind, you stop and see how we can take care of it. everybody stop. so we usually call for something, either the mortar
people or the artillery people, or maybe even they might call for --, if it is a safe distance away. but if there is immediate resistance a little ways from us, we take care of it right there. that is the way. i know we went in maybe a quarter of a mile, that is about a thousand yards or more, and we stayed there for a long time until the evening, late afternoon. everything synchronized together, i guess, and we moved up another thousand yards if we could. but somebody did not reach their target. so with night coming on, we would make a line right there where we are, tough in -- tuck in for the night. the first night, it was nice. we got some of what they call -- some japanese coming through the
line, but we got them. the guys up front, we were behind, and up front they stop those guys from coming in. and we never did get an organized attack of any kind. for several days, until we got to the airport. from there on, our objective, i guess, was to move that way. i thought we were going north, but now i see we were going this way, because of their -- up there i heard about a site where -- about the suicide. people were jumping off. i did not go down, but the infantry people went down. we were up there, so we stayed up there.
several days, about a week or so, before we reached the eastern shore line. the thing that you are doing, you know you are in a heck of a situation and you could lose your life anytime. so you are on alert all the time. when you are out here, you know that you are going to go up to the fighting area and you know that wherever you are you are going to get it.
going to get it. physical mentality is a thing you're constantly aware of. your own safety and your buddies that are in there with you. so i guess awareness of what we are doing is a sign of faith, because a lot of replacements green reserves that come in you , have to take care of them and that is a dangerous job, when you have to take care of somebody else. you don't know what they are going to do.
so i had an chance to watch over and machine gunner that was new that came into the unit, and it just so happened that him and i were on the same watch. i was to look after him, see that he is awake, that the rifle is over here on the left and the right, so you kind of crawl around and see, tapped him on the shoulder and see if they are awake. you cannot sleep. you are giving substance to -- your giving instructions to people you're working with the
they are on watch, be on alert. i told this machine gunner, don't you open fire during the night. the open fire you , give our position away. do not shoot unless you have a clear target. and we have a way of getting the other guys alerted right away. they had to tell me that there is something out there. well, i guess the guy went to sleep. i don't know what he did, but anyways, sometimes at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, he opens up. there was nothing wrong, nothing anything to shoot, but he was firing away. so i get up there and i beat him on the head and make him stop. ask him what's the matter. there is something out there. i hear a noise. well, we don't want to go over there.
if something is coming, we will shoot, but nothing happened to the rest of the night. the next morning, when everything was light, me and some other guys went over there and took a look, and there were bunch of dead goats out there. [laughter] keith: so you don't know -- they are green, they can jump at anything, you know? they are ready to shoot. some of them are, you know? their mentality is that -- is pretty solid. some of them are trigger-happy guys. >> you're watching interviews with former world war ii navajo code talker keith little, conducted between 2004 and 2000 -- and 2006 for a documentary project "navajo code talkers: journey of remembrance."
it took place at his home and on battlefields where he walked with other navajo code talkers. dr. colburn: you are a major advocate of going back to the battlefield, so maybe you can tell us why, how you came to that decision to go back after 60 years? keith: i came to that conclusion about our religion of not going back as a warrior, not going
the news. we have no idea what the background of it was, the bombing of pearl harbor. so according to our understanding of our religion, native american people have always fought one another for supplies. here was a national emergency. it is not fought on our land. guadalcanal, saipan and guam, iwo jima. okinawa. was that special advice, was
that for when our tribes raided one another. here, maybe it pertains to that. interfere withot interfere going across the seas. ordeals, being marched at gunpoint and hungry, their land is devastated, everything they have is gone. here, we enjoy the elements of good things, and we also have been captivated by other people. our people, our people suffered
harsh ordeals. and my wife nelly says, you don't know how many children they lost in their kind of situation. a lot of people lost their lives, their loved ones, and an unimaginable ordeal that they suffered. when you look at it, not knowing anything about it, it did not mean much to me at the time. although you have feelings for those people that we have intruded on over there, in the islands. so going back, looking at the results, like oh, iwo jima is a good example of the enemy
that wants to kill you, that wants to kill all americans. that yet -- but yet you don't see them. you see a lot of your friends, your buddies, your comrades being wiped out. and also the fact that how hard you survive, how hard it is to survive in a situation like that. and you see the land, how devastated it has become. and you leave it that way and go home. so that stays in your mind, that picture of the situation that is all the way, something you wouldn't remember.
they say that your spiritual ceremonials will cure that, and i have had that. but it still, that picture, that situation over there still hangs somewhere in my mind, until i went back over there to see what the country looks like, to see how the people are happy, they are at peace, they are enjoying their freedom. they make their own decisions, they are going to school, the kids are happy. they have moms and dads, you know? just a situation where everybody is living in harmony with each other. you don't think about somebody coming around, invading you or
distorting all of your living. so this is my thought about whether to go back, it's always a stumbling block. the initiation of that religion from the holy people, that you don't go back, that you don't go back to where you fought, here on this land. the other portion, which is bothersome to me, is overseas. but yet, the people over there are now pretty well satisfied with what they have. dr. colburn: when you think about the pacific islands, now you have a recent memory that blocks out that old memory. keith: curious, curious. kind of a curious happy thought,
and ending in goodwill. that is the way my feelings are. i don't know how john feels, but that is mine. that is my experience, and my understanding of it. these kids don't understand. none of these kids understand how harsh and brutal war can be. and so the people that have fought over there are somebody who have sacrificed their lives in order to protect what we have here, the freedom. dr. colburn: so if i was a senator, you investigated the brief and found out it did not apply to this particular case and you were able to go and make this trip back to the battlefield, despite this
long-held belief that you did not revisit the battlefield, what i be correct in that summary? -- would i be correct in that summary? keith: you might be, but part of the push behind my thoughts about that, being an official at the organization, where you kind of are forced into a situation and you don't want to, but yet you wanted to. you wanted to go see. there are two sides to that. dr. colburn: did your wife's viewpoint help you in making that decision? was she an influence? keith: sometimes we talk about it, discuss it a bit, but i make it a point to not really discuss it, even with my kids. because my religion forbids bringing something that is unneeded into the family.
dr. colburn: after the war, you came back and you were under orders from the marines not to talk about it. to not talk about the specifics of your war activities. secondly, you were at war and your people did not really want to know the details about it, so you could only share your thoughts with yourselves. was it something that was constantly on your minds, those really horrible thoughts about the war? did they tend to dominate your life? keith: it does in a certain way, you know? you learn what you are and what you are required to do when you are young. and this thing, this ordeal, you feel it.
country, your people conditions,r unsafe, not healthy, so being a , a dutyhave to almost to do something about what the other nation is doing to you. situation a balanced where you are not read your going to. if you think a lot of your people -- people say love of country and then you have to do it. that's kindbalance thingsed to do away with
upon us. dr. colburn: when you think about the legacy your people in it, ther ii, what is thing that comes to mind? what is the strongest feeling that there is a couple of ,enerations there on the couch what is it you would like them to take away with them, carry with them about your experience? keith: that is kind of a tricky question. country.ere in this i can't even estimate. it has been longer than long time. we came into it and we were
themselves did not come up with the development of the code. men thatese 30 men, 29 were recruited especially for that purpose and trained and when they come out of boot camp they did not go right into their basic training. they put them to work developing that code. i understand that place where they worked was a guarded place. it is a secret that nobody has ever done. it is incredibly unique, how these people come up with that code. there must have been a lot of discussion. i would like to listen to it. sometimes john's memory is kind of poor.
ifew times i've talked to him did not press him for how did , how comet did you you come up with the term hummingbird. the term grenades, a term like -- using the plan system, the resources, all the natural resources and human resources of our navajo country. been brilliant men among some of those. because not everybody memorizes things the way we were forced to do. and if you did not have it, you washed out.
why i think the legacy of the navajo code talkers is something that should not be forgotten. believe saying i do not it should be forgotten, it should be observed annually and make it national in the united states. , weing back over it now have been mistreated all the days of persons white men came over and right now we have done something that is beyond expectation and we are still by not reallyed knowing how our own people, the .9 men, came up with this code
i don't know it either. if i was there i would know that i was not there. john has got a lot of work to do. what did they do? how do they come up with these terms? how much discussion did it involve? and then a lot of things that they say you are not supposed to talk about. not supposed to use these words this way. maybe that came into the picture and they were reluctant to use it. enemy,o confuse the whoever the enemy is. somebody that is trying to do unexpectedly.ou that is exactly what these people did. kids,ung kids, our young have a big challenge ahead of