Navajo Code Talker dies at 90 in New Mexico home

Associated Press Published:


Wilfred Billey, 90, Navajo Code Talker

Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Wilfred Billey, a Navajo Code Talker whose words are inscribed on congressional medals given to his groupfor their World War II service, died Thursday in Farmington, N.M. He was 90.

Billey was one of hundreds of Navajo Code Talkers who stumped the Japanese during World War II by relaying messages in their native language.

He fought in battles at Tarawa Atoll, Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa with the all-Navajo 297th Platoon.

, part of the 1st Battalion in the 2nd Division.

Billey was discharged as a corporal in 1946, finished high school and earned bachelor's and master's degrees from New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M., according to his family. He served as a counselor, teacher and principal in northwestern New Mexico. He spent the latter part of his life ranching, farming, fighting for his tribe's right to water from the San Juan River basin and sharing the story of the Code Talkers.

Duane "Chili" Yazzie, president of the Navajo Nation's Shiprock Chapter, recalled spending time in Billey's office when Billey was a counselor at Shiprock High School in the late 1960s.

"He was a great man, he had a tremendous, positive influence on many of us," Yazzie said. "He said we needed to recognize the hardship that many of our families experienced and a sure way to get out of that hardship is education."

Billey gained the respect of students with a sense of calmness and kindness, said Mark Madsen, human resources coordinator at Central Consolidated School District. When he spoke about being a Code Talker, Madsen said Billey never focused on himself.

"It was always about the work, the people he worked with and what it meant to him and to the other gentlemen who had done the same thing as him," he said. "Just the pride in their country, and the pride in what they had done."

Services are scheduled Dec. 21 at the First United Methodist Church in Farmington. Billey is survived by his wife, Matilda, and six children: Barbara Billey, Willard Billey, Linda Kerr, Elsie Billey, Chuck Billey and Warren Billey.

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