- By Donovan Quintero - Navajo Times
SHIPROCK - Funeral services for Navajo Code Talker Samuel Sandoval will be held on Wednesday [August 3] morning at the Ryder Memorial Chapel in Farmington.
Malula Sandoval said on Monday night her husband’s funeral service begins at 10 a.m. at the chapel, which is located at Navajo Preparatory School.
According to Malula, Sandoval began having health problems not long after a candidates for Navajo president forum held at San Juan College on June 3.
She said he was constantly going to the hospital after the forum. Then on a Tuesday, he had an “episode,” which she said she doesn’t understand.
She said Samuel caught pneumonia when he was younger and was doing survey work in Red Valley, which had scarred his lungs.
“We got into the hospital, and he spent three days and two nights in ICU,” Malula said. “After that he went to a different ward and stayed another two days. It was on a Friday. And I guess he told the doctor he was ready to go home and was OK.”
Before he got sick, Malula said talks of building a Navajo Code Talker museum started again.
Thirteen years before, on July 31, 2009, land was donated to the Navajo Code Talkers by the Chevron Corporation.
The late Navajo Code Talker Keith Little, then president of the former Navajo Code Talkers Association, which was a 501(c)(19) nonprofit organization, and Frederick Nelson, representing Chevron, signed a proclamation.
At the time, concept drawings of the museum were planned and it was to be built about a mile east of Tse Bonito, New Mexico.
Malula became emotional when she said her husband had dreamed of seeing the museum come to life.
“He had a voice in it,” she said, “he traveled, he said, ‘Take me to the meetings, I have a plan, I got a vision, I want this thing done. I want the groundbreaking done.
“‘I want the museum up. I want to see it before I leave,’” she said as she wept. “He never did. That’s the part that hurts.”
The beginning of discussions involved Samuel, herself, Peter MacDonald, his daughter Hope MacDonald-Lonetree, and Regan Hawthorne, who is the son of the late Navajo Code Talker Roy Hawthorne, Malula said.
After discharge from the hospital, Malula said Samuel wanted to attend a Navajo Code Talker Museum meeting.
She told him, “No.”
So, he asked her brother to attend the meeting on his behalf.
“When my brother came back, he came and took the notes and told him, ‘Here, Sam, here’s the notes. Here’s all the material, this is what they passed out. We talked about this,’” she said her brother told Samuel.
“He was very happy,” she said. “He was all happy. He says, ‘It’s coming, it’s coming, I’m going to be at that groundbreaking. I’m gonna get that gold shovel and kick that dirt.’”
Then he had another episode. She called her sister and told her of the emergency. Her sister told Malula to call the ambulance, and she’d wait outside for EMS to arrive.
“He was gasping for air. He’s like he’s getting choked, even though his oxygen was in his nose,” she recalled, “They came right away, and they took him … never came home.”
Sandoval died on Friday night. He was 98. He would have turned 99 in October.
Met at work
Malula said they met at work. She was a secretary and they both ran an alcohol recovery program.
At the time, she did not know he was a Navajo Code Talker. Before meeting her future husband, she said her father spoke of Navajo boys being taken off to war.
One day, at a parade, she saw a group of men dressed sharply, wearing blue caps at the time, walking in a parade. She later learned they were the code talkers.
When they married in 1990, still unaware her newlywed husband was a Navajo Code Talker, she said Samuel showed her a book by Doris A. Paul, who wrote it in 1973 titled, “The Navajo Code Talkers.”
“All I know is that he said he is a Marine,” Malula remembered, saying Samuel never told her he was a code talker.
She said he gave her a book and said for her to read a section in it.
“It said, ‘Samuel Sandoval of Farmington, radio man,’” Malula remembered.
Aside from always being recognized as one of the Navajo Code Talkers, Malula said Samuel was a quiet man who cherished his privacy.
“My husband was a very simple man,” she said. “He was very private. He said that ‘If you were in the thick of it, if you really transmitted the code, there’s no bragging about it.’
“He said he’s been in the thick of it and he almost got killed. He tried to play a low profile,” she said.
To honor her husband’s legacy and his commitment to the museum, she’d like to continue working on it. Her first priority was to lay her husband to rest on Wednesday.
Samuel Sandoval was originally from Nageezi, New Mexico. His clans were Naasht’ézhi Dine’é, born for Tł’ááshchí’í. His chei was Tsenabahiłnii and his nali was Taneeszahnii.
He enlisted into the Marine Corps on March 26, 1943, and completed his basic training in 1942.
Following his training, he served in five combat tours, including Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam, Peleliu, and Okinawa.
He was honorably discharged on Jan. 26, 1946, and enrolled in college and earned a certificate in substance abuse counseling. He worked in Farmington as a counselor.
The Nageezi-native earned a Navy Unit Commendation ribbon, a Combat Action ribbon, a China Service medal, a World War II Victory medal, a Navy Occupation Service medal with Asia clasp, and an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal with a silver star, in lieu of five bronze stars.
Candidates for president expressed condolences to Sandoval’s family.
“As a code talker that represented our Navajo Nation, I am honored to have met him,” candidate Rosanna Jumbo-Fitch said on Saturday. “Prayers to his family.”
“Thank you, Sam, for all your support throughout the years for me to become a leader for Navajo,” candidate Dineh Benally said. “My condolences to the family.”
“It’s a very saddening to hear that one of our code talkers has passed on into the spirit world,” candidate Buu Nygren said.
“One of the things I can always remember and what warms my heart,” he said, “and it will continue to warm my heart throughout my life, is the strength of our language and how they continue to honor it. My condolences to all of his family.”
Ethel Branch thanked Samuel for his service and for setting a standard of “Diné excellence.”
“My condolences to his family and friends, and all in the Shiprock community who knew and loved him,” said Branch. “Let’s honor his life, and the life of all our code talkers, by making his dream of a code talker museum a reality.”
Three Navajo Code Talkers, Thomas Begay, John Kinsel and Peter MacDonald remain.
Samuel attended Navajo Methodist Mission, which later became Navajo Academy in the 1980s before changing to Navajo Preparatory School in 1991.
Other family members are planning a public remembrance for Samuel Sandoval, which is tentatively scheduled to be held this Saturday at the Farmington Civic Center.
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