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Memoriam for a Code Talker: Joe Hosteen Kellwood

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The following is a guest post by Owen Rogers, Liaison Specialist for the Veterans History Project (VHP).

In second grade, I asked my teacher why American soldiers were fighting – and dying –in Somalia. Images of GIs slain in Bakaara Market clashed with the invincible G.I. Joes I carried in my knapsack, and in my doubt, I turned to the clarity of the “Greatest Generation.”

As a millennial, I can recall World War II veterans in the context of recent retirees and grandparents. As long as they were alive, we shared a living link to the past, but inevitably, we both grew older. By 2016, I’d like to say that I’ve acclimated to the obituaries of World War II veterans; that I’ve gotten used to the headlines announcing the recent death of a “Winnie” or GI. I haven’t.

Contemporary photo of man in yellow shirt, red cap, teal beads in a room with posters in the background.
Navajo Code Talker Joe Hosteen Kellwood shares his oral history with interviewers from the Navajo Code Talker’s Project.

The recent obituary of Joe Hosteen Kellwood, a Navajo Code Talker, felt particularly stirring. Among the duly celebrated World War II generation, American Indian service is a relatively recent addition to our popular memory. In 2001, a half-century after Japanese bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, these specialists received the Congressional Gold Medal and the National Native American Veterans Memorial remains in its planning stages.

Fortunately, “grass roots” interviewers have been busy, and the coverage afforded by community oral history projects gleaned many Tribal voices. In 2007, the Navajo Code Talker’s Project donated a series of narratives centered on the nuanced Code Talker experience of World War II. Overall, VHP features nearly 20 Code Talker oral history recordings, approximately 5% of the 400-strong cadre.

Man in stars and stripes hat and suit points at camera with "I want you US Army" poster in the background.
A familiar face – Walter Botts, the life model for “Uncle Sam,” belonged to the Crow Nation.

Nevertheless, this sample scarcely reflects the overall service of American Indian World War II veterans. From 1941 through 1945, more than one in every eight indigenous persons served in uniform. Although VHP preserves almost 100 such narratives, as well as nearly 200 more from prior and subsequent conflicts, there are countless stories waiting to be told. Go to to find out how you can participate.

In the words of Maya Angelou,

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

Comments (3)


    Contact for the Southern Paiute Veterans Association

  2. Thank you for sharing the contact information for the Southern Paiute Veterans Association, Pat. We’ll surely reach out to them in anticipation of our nascent Native Veterans Stories Archives Project with the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

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