Harrison Lapahie

Willie Lapahie
Cora Henderson
Harrison Lapahie Jr.

Harrison Lapahie, about 1947 or 1948.

Diné Name : Yieh Kinne Yah (He finds things)
Clan : Tachii'nii Ta'neezahnii (Navajo)
Tachii'nii (Red Running into Water) blood from mom Cora Henderson.
Ta'neezahnii (Tangle People) blood from dad Willie Lapahie.
Birth Date : Official: January 18, 1923
Actual: About 1928
Born Where : Sanostee rural area near the town of Shiprock (Naat'áanii Nééz)
San Juan County, New Mexico
Service : U.S. Marines, as a Navajo Code Talker
4/26/43-11/28/45, Service No. 831046
Married When : February 20, 1955
Church of the Open Door, Downtown Los Angeles
Children : Harrison Lapahie Jr., born 9/28/55
El Huerfano (Dzil Ná'oodilii), San Juan County, New Mexico
Died : November 26, 1985 (Tuesday morning about 6 a.m.)
Died Where : At the Lapahie apartment
1632½ West 12th Place
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Burial Place : Memory Gardens Cemetery
between Farmington & Aztec, NM
      Son              Parents               Grand Parents         Great Grand Parents
(1985 <-- 1923)   (1991 <-- ~1900)        (~1950s <-- ~1860s)      (~1920s <-- ~1840s)
                                            (approximation)          (approximation)
                                    ________Hastiin Lapahie________|
                                   |         (hooghanlani)         |__________________
                 __Willie Lapahie__|                                Hastiin Tee Yazzie
                |   (taneezahnii)  |____Martha Hastiin Lapahie_____|
                |                            (taneezahnii)         |__________________
Harrison Lapahie|                                                   __________________
  (tachiinii)   |                   Hastiin Naataaníí Atsósie Begay|
                |                  |                               |__________________
                |__Cora Henderson__|                                __________________
                     (tachiinii)   |_______Asdzá Léh Holgéh________|
                                             (tachiinii)           |__________________

Charles Cambridge, cousin of Harrison Lapahie, and Harrison. Harrison Lapahie was born about 1928 (officially, January 18, 1923) in a country area of Sanostee, New Mexico, with the Navajo name of Yieh Kinne Yah (He finds Things) of Tachii'nii Ta'neezahnii lineage. Tachii'nii (Red Running into Water) from mom Cora Henderson's side, born for the Ta'neezahnii (Tangle People) from dad Willie Lapahie's side. Harrison did not know who his maternal grandparents' clan were, but the Hooghan Lání (Many Hogans) were his paternal grandparents. Harrison was actually born in 1928, but his parents, as with most Navajos of the time, made their children older giving him a birthday of January 18, 1923, so that they could have their children work earlier. His father and mom were both farmers and sheepherders in the areas of Shiprock, Table Mesa, and Sanostee, New Mexico. Harrison had 2 other brothers (Johnston and Robert) and 2 sisters (Lucy and Sarah) and was raised in Shiprock, Table Mesa, Sanostee, and the surrounding area before World War II.

After World War II, he never really returned to the Navajo Reservation, but continued his schooling in other states, got married to his former Ute Indian Boarding School classmate, and lived most of his life in Los Angeles, California, until his death in 1985. In the beginning of their marriage, Harrison Lapahie was very strict with his wife Lillie, and son Harrison Lapahie Jr. Everything that he asked of his son, his son would obey blindly, because no one in the family would talk back to Dad. Later, as his son Dondo, went to college, Harrison began to mellow out, visiting his son often in Utah, and participated in personal activities after work to help his people, as starting a Navajo Clothing Program, and rekindling the Navajo Club of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Harrison Lapahie did not drink, smoke, or gamble, and was a good role model to his son throughout his life in that respect. Yet, as told by the wife, Lillie (Todychinii) Lapahie, Harrison Lapahie use to drink, and Lillie forced Harrison to stop drinking. There are also some pictures, showing Harrison Lapahie with his relatives, and Indian, White, and Mexican friends, drinking and smoking when he was young and single, just after World War II.

Harrison Lapahie was an intelligent and clever Navajo. He never graduated from boarding school, but he proved his wisdom and intellect, by returning to the Navajo Reservation for only a short time after World War II, then leaving to continue his education and working in other states, and learning and fixing things by himself. The closes Harrison ever got to graduating was when he was a Cook's Assistant, and a Baker of bread, at the Ute Indian Boarding School in Ignacio CO. It was said that Willie, Harrison's dad, sent him there because the Shiprock Boarding School would not accept Harrison back because of possibly having a contagious spinal infection called "Spinal ?" or "Sprio ?" (can't recall the name). It was from the Ute Indian Boarding School that Harrison was inducted into the U.S. Marines during World War II.

The way Harrison and Lillie Lapahie relate their experiences at the Ute Indian Boarding School, was that it was like a military school camp, where American Indian kids and teenagers slept in barracks in bunk beds. They were not allowed to return to their parents or go home until the end of the school year. On the school grounds, was a jail, where bad students were placed. They were not allowed to have any food, but father Harrison use to say that he use to sneek food and bread to them because he was the Cook and Baker, and the Cooking School was just the next building to the jailhouse. Harrison and Lillie Lapahie's experiences related to Dondo never mentioned reading, writing, or arithmetic, but education emphasizing the proper way of conducting yourself with the opposite sex, on how to dress and clean your nails and comb your hair, in learning the proper way of social dance, and learning the correct table manners and way of eating your food. Lillie would mention, the proper way of holding a fork and spoon, the proper way of folding your napkin, the proper way of sipping your soup, and the proper way of drinking from a cup. These things she learned at the Ute Indian Boarding School. Years later, about 1969 or 1970, the Lapahie family visited the Ute Indian School, to discover that the Ute Indian School was converted to a public secondary school. There the Lapahie family met and talked to the old former Mayor of Ignacio. Since that time, the school had again been converted into the Ute Tribe's administration offices, part of the original school had been torn down, and built into the "Sky Ute Casino".

A military man in uniform one day came to the Ute Indian Boarding School, and more or less told eligible students to join to help fight the enemy during World War II. Harrison Lapahie was one of those who joined. Because Harrison came from the Ute Indian Boarding School, he was registered with the Ute Indian Agency as were other non-Utes, even though he was Navajo. After the war ended, he was written up in a booklet as one of the Ute Indians who returned back from the war. Before he left to Camp Pendleton, his family had a Hozh-Hon-Che (Blessing Way Ceremony) done for him. Harrison Lapahie was placed in the 4th Marine Division of the U.S. Marines during World War II, working as a Code Talker, and saw battle at Roi-Namur, Tinian, Saipan, Guadacanal, and Iwo Jima against the Japanese. Years later, out of no where, Harrison Lapahie was ask to participate in many types of ceremonies that honored his years of service with the U.S. Marines as a Navajo Code Talker. This is when the world found out and realized that the Navajo language was the secret code that was used to transmit military information through the air waves and that this code was the only known code in existence that had never been broken during war time. His secret was then declassified in 1968, and America would now know them as the Navajo Code Talkers, because only Navajo Americans were used as Code Talkers sending their messages in Navajo.

Harrison told very little of his WWII and Code Talker experiences to his son or the public. Dad had already passed away before his son had realized how important that history would be for his descendants or for the public to know. Dondo never really understood what his father did, only until Harrison started to receive many invitations to attend different U.S. Marine functions, but then a few years later, Harrison would die from a heart attack. Even then, Harrison probably only attended less than 9 events.

When Dondo was around the age of 7 about 1962, one of the things that Dondo mentioned to his father was if he ever killed anyone during WWII. Dad just kept quiet. If Dad didn't answer, that meant he did it. Another was of a fear when jumping from a battleship on to a troop boat just before landing on shore for battle. Marines had to climb down a net hanging over the side of the battleship. The boats would rock and "hit" each other then move apart because of the ocean waves and current, and the fear was falling in between, or getting crushed when the boats would hit each other. Another story was of how some Navajos were mistaken as Japanese and that he and others had to have a white American bodyguard with them. Another was of how the U.S. Marines treated the dead or nearly dead Japanese, or how certain U.S. Marines would look through the bodies of dead Japanese and take their swords and flags or other trinkets as souvenirs. Dondo asked his father why he didn't take any trinkets. Harrison said that they were commanded not to take any belongings of the Japanese as souvenirs (even though many U.S. Marines did) and that if they did, it would be removed from them when they returned to the states or before they returned to the states. The only items that can be documented that Harrison did take were WWII Japanese money and Japanese currency that were found in his U.S. Marine album.

There is a story when Dad was strolling on one of the islands, and went into a Japanese military site. Yet he was untouched because the Japanese thought that he was Japanese! Another is when Harrison and another Marine, Gaul Pinto, were exploring a cave. They stopped at a certain point and felt they shouldn't go any deeper. The next day, other fellow Marines found some Japanese hiding in there. If Dad went any further, he might have been shot. Dad use to say that some U.S. Marines would hit the jaws of dead Japanese to remove their gold tooth fillings. Also that they use to pile the dead or nearly dead Japanese in a group, and every now and then a U.S. Marine would kick a dead or nearly dead Japanese because of their fallen buddies during the war.

After World War II concluded, Harrison returned to Table Mesa, and his family had a Squaw Dance held for him. Harrison stayed for a while, and then left the four-corners to continue his education, by enrolling into an acceptable GI school, Coyne Electrical and Radio, Television School in Chicago IL. He graduated there and found a job in Witchita with Boeing as an Assembler. He later moved to Los Angeles to go to school at National School (now torn down), which use to be at the intersection of Figueroa and Santa Barbara Blvd (now Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.), and got a degree as Radio Operator. Harrison found a job at the Los Angeles Airport with North American as an Aircraft Mechanic. He stayed with North American, which later became a division of Rockwell (North American Aviation), then Rockwell International. Harrison stayed with Rockwell International for 33 years, working on the Stratofortress Bomber, Minute Man Missile, Gemini and Apollo Space Program, and Space Shuttle Program, until his heart gave up in 1985, holding the last title of Electronic Mechanic. He had the opportunity to be promoted to Engineer, but did not accept the position. Harrison was weary of leaving the union and losing his seniority, which would have occurred since the title of Engineer is a non-union position, not protected by his Solidarity Union. Harrison thought, once he became an Engineer, they would make up a reason to fire him or lay him off. When his son, Dondo, heard his father's reasoning, he was upset, yet years later Dondo finally understood what his father meant, having himself become an Engineer, and understanding that Engineers are not really stable, just hired for projects, then laid-off when the work is completed, to go on to search for employement with other companies with projects. Dad was looking at job security, and the Union provided that, but an Engineer doesn't have a Union, and therefore doesn't have protection or good job security.

Harrison Lapahie already knew of Lillie Todychini when both went to Ute Indian Boarding School in Ignacio CO, but Harrison was not interested in Lillie, because Lillie was a little girl around 7 or 8 years old, while Harrison was a teenager about 14 or 15 years old. Years later though, they met again, and now Lillie was in her twenties, and Harrison was just turning 30. At this time Harrison was living in Los Angeles with cousin Alex Lewis, while Lillie Todychini was living with Mable Paul or Diana (Cambridge) Baker. Harrison and Lillie married at the Church of the Open Door (which moved to Glendale CA in the 1980's) in downtown Los Angeles, having no invited guest or wedding ceremony, but only going to the preachers office, to get married.

Harrison Lapahie and Alex Lewis, Harrison's Cousin, doing Hoop Dance. They lived in downtown Los Angeles moving to different locations in the downtown area, to finally live at the same location in the Pico-Union District of downtown, Los Angeles, for 25 years (until Harrison death), at 1632 1/2 West 12th Place, Los Angeles CA 90015. At this location, son Harrison Lapahie Jr. (or Dondo) was brought up and raised at the age of 5 years. Lillie continued living there until 1996, when she received a stroke that affected the whole right side of her body. She then slowly started to learn how to talk and walk again, and then moved in with her son in Huntington Park, California, in 1997.

Father Harrison was quite active in his middle years while his son, Dondo, was in college in Utah. He was also very much liked and respected by the urban Navajos and his Pico-Union neighbors from his middle years till his death in 1985. During the years of 1970 to 1979, Father Harrison was a Silversmith, a social worker who helped his Navajo people by starting a Clothing Program and registering Navajos with the Navajo Tribe, and a neophyte politician by starting and being active in the Navajo Club of Southern California. Father Harrison created (along with his wife, Lillie) many Navajo rings, bracelets, belt buckels, and Bolo tie clips, all in silver. With these jewlery, most of the items he made were for his family, while some of the jewelry were taken or stolen by the relatives. The equipment that father Harrison had is currently not being used, was stored in the garage at Dondo's townhouse, and was later given to Charles Cambridge Jr. (son of Charles Cambridge, cousin of Harrison), who Harrison treated like his own son.

From 1972 to 1975, Harrison and wife Lillie had invested about $52,000 in cattle, with another $25,000 in the name of his son, Harrison Lapahie Jr. Harrison let a white man (forgot his name) manage the livestock. While his son was in Utah going to college, Harrison had heard negative statements from others about this person. When Harrison went to this white man to try to sell his cattle, this white man gave him the run-a-round. After a few attempts to find out the problems, but not getting a straight answer, Harrison then sued this man and about two years later only got about five cents out of a dollar for each dollar the cows were worth. This white man had apparently let his son take care of the cattle, but his son had mis-managed his father's business and did some other mis-deeds. This should have been a low point in his life, but Harrison took it in stride. His son never noticed any mental or emotional problems that had occurred because of this between Harrison and his wife. The only time that his son, Dondo, felt sad was when his father, Harrison, spoke to him from Los Angeles over the phone to Provo, Utah saying that they might have to struggle financially because they had lost a lot of money caused by mis-management of their cattle livestock.

During the years of 1971 to about 1978, Harrison spent many unpaided hours helping his Navajo people in the Los Angeles area. Through his efforts, and using Reverend Arthur Stoneking's church, the Indian Revival Center (IRC) in Bell Gardens CA, he set up meetings with the Chairman of the Navajo Tribe during their eras, Raymond Nakai and Peter MacDonald, and also with other Navajo officials, actually having them come to Los Angeles to talk to the Navajo people. He registered Navajos into the tribe (with the help of Lillie Lapahie, and some help from Dondo), and started a clothing program, funded by the Navajo Tribe to help cloth the needy Navajos in the Los Angeles area. Dondo recalls Harrison driving to many different family homes after work late in the evenings, to register Navajos, either for the Navajo election, for certificates of Navajo blood, or to inform them of the Navajo Clothing Program in the area. As the years past, father Harrison was getting less satisfaction for his efforts, so he slowly got out of the business of helping his people, and since no one ever took his place, the Clothing program he started later folded about a year after Harrison left.

Also during the years of 1973 to 1978, Harrison revived the Navajo Club of Southern California, that had disbanded and been dead for a few years. This club originally, was made up mostly of relatives from the Bitahni Clan: Harrison Lapahie, Lillie Todychini Lapahie, Mable Paul Staley, Benjamin Staley, Ruby Paul Hernandez, Alex Hernandez, and about 4 un-related Navajos. The Navajo Club performed Navajo dances in the southern Calfornia area, and also taught about the Navajo culture. As word of the club increased, other Navajos joined, and less control was held by the Bithani Clan. As the years past, internal friction caused some animosity between members, causing Bitahni members to leave, and the Navajo Club slowly folded, until today it exists no more.

For decades, Harrison Lapahie enjoyed going to the Santa Fe Railroad headquarters office in downtown Los Angeles near the end of each year and picking up about 50 to 200 Santa Fe Railroad calendars and mailing them to relatives and friends and giving the rest away to Los Angeles Navajos and American Indians as a Christmas present when he met them at functions, meetings, and at church. Santa Fe Railroad calendars use to have a theme on the top part of the calendar of showing paintings of the southwest landscape or a picturesque snap-shot of the American Indians or Navajo livestyle, which was inspirational to Navajos and southwest American Indians. We use to collect the photos of each calendar after the year was over, but after mom Lillie Lapahie moved in with her son Dondo after her stroke in 1997, moving all the Lapahie furniture from Los Angeles to Huntington Park, the pile of old Santa Fe Railroad calendar paintings that were in the downtown Los Angeles apartment that the Lapahie family had lived in for decades, were thrown away. Mom Lillie Lapahie moving to Huntington Park was the time when junk but also a lot of good items (sofa, two sofa chairs, frigerator, stove, photos of relatives, reels of tape recordings of Navajo sings) were thrown away or given away, as a way of cleaning the apartment, in order to move.

Near the end of his life, Harrison Lapahie, was diagnosed with diabetes and glaucoma, and his son or wife would have to inject him with insulin every day. Harrison died after his second heart attack a day or two before Thanksgiving Day in 1985. At 6 a.m., Lillie screamed "Sonny", and Dondo ran to the living room noticing Harrison was struggling to breath. At that moment, the phone didn't seem to want to work, with mom and son dialing but not getting through. Harrison died on the lap of his son, Dondo, ending with a very deep breath and sigh then no more. Dondo tried to drag his father to the car, but Harrison was too heavy. That day will be a memory Dondo will never forget, because his father was the best friend that Dondo ever had. One memory that Dondo has of this day, was when Lillie and Dondo arrived at California Hospital, were Harrison was taken, two Doctors came out and said "Are you here for Harrison, we couldn't revive him, now how are you going to pay for this!" It was realized then, that these doctors didn't really care and feel how important he was and how much he was loved, but were thinking of the money. During this sad time, instead of celebrating Thanksgiving Day, Dondo, Harrison's wife Lillie, Lillie's sister Mable, and Harrison's cousin Alex (& his son Keevin), went as a caravan back to Shiprock NM to prepare for burial of Harrison Lapahie. Harrison Lapahie received a military burial performed by the existing Navajo Code Talkers, and was buried at Memory Gardens Cemetery, located between Aztec and Farmington, New Mexico.

Toward the end of his life, Harrison Lapahie stood out far among his own relatives, was very much respected and loved by his wife's relatives, and had a unique charm, wisdom, patience, and aura, that is not noticed in other Navajos. He was especially loved by his son Dondo, and his cousin's son Charles Cambridge Jr. He did a lot for his son, and treated Charles Cambridge Jr. as one of the family. Harrison Lapahie was a true leader, and is an inspiration to his family, and Navajo people! Dondo misses his son and still thinks of him a lot, and misses that time when he was alive. There is a saying, "Nothing lives forever, but fun is fun, and done is done, and we all shine on".

Below are the statistics that Dondo obtained about Harrison while looking through his records. Also, a few more pictures of father Harrison Lapahie can be observed by looking at his photos.

Harrison Lapahie Jr., born 9/28/55, El Huerfano, New Mexico

U.S. Marine, Navajo Code Talker, 4/26/43-11/28/45, Service No. 831046

Harrison was inducted April 26, 1943 in the U.S. Marines. Harrison was trained at the U.S. Marine base at Camp Penelton, California and then was sent overseas to the campaigns in the Pacific Islands against the Japanese as a Code Talker. At that time, many Navajos were secretly trained to use their Diné (Navajo language) dialect as code. Navajo Code Talkers were used exclusively in the Pacific Island campaigns. Navajo Code Talkers would communicate important war time commands to other Navajo Code Talkers in the U.S. Pacific operations. The Japanese found this code perplexing, and often discribed it as a sound similiar to a mixture of Tibetian and Mongolian. Many years later (1968), their war time performances were declassified, and the world would now know them as the Navajo Code Talkers. Their dialect is the only code since recorded time that has never been broken during war time. Harrison, as with other Navajos, served in the 4th Marine Division, in the campaigns of Kwajalein, Roc-Nanun, Saipan, Tinian, Guadacanal, and Iwo Jima. Some of these islands are part of the Marshall Islands, and Marianas Island chain. He was discharge a Private First Class (Pfc.) on November 28, 1945, and was entitled to wear the Asiatic-Pacific Ribbon and Four Stars and World War II Victory Medal. The U.S. Marines then furnished Harrison with a travel allowance of 5 cents per mile from Mare Island, CA to Farmington, NM and paid him $185.95. Years later, he received a congratulatory letter from the Governor of New Mexico, and a commendation and medal from the President of the United States (Ronald Reagan) for the Navajo Code Talker's exemplenary feats during World War II.

BROTHERS & SISTERS (from Cora Henderson)
Relation Name Birth Date Birth Place
Brother Johnson Lapahie 7/10/27 Sanostee, NM
Brother Robert Lapahie ? ?
Sister Lucy (Lapahie) Begay 10/7/29 Tocito, NM
Sister Sarah Mae (Lapahie) Largo 6/29/39 Sanostee, NM

School Location From To Graduated?
Shiprock Indian School Shiprock, NM ? ? No
So. Ute Indian School Ignacio, CO Sept 1942 April 1943 No
National Schools Los Angeles, CA 8/1/49 1/3/50 Yes
Santa Monica College Santa Monica, CA 9/11/50 5/4/51 No
Coyne Electrical School Chicago, IL 7/18/51 2/22/52 Yes

Position Employer Location From To
Aircraft Assembler Boeing Aircraft Witchita, KS 3/7/52 8/8/52
Aircraft Electrician North American Aviation L.A. International Airport 8/28/52 3/4/60
Electronic Mechanic Rockwell International
Autonetics Division
3370 Miraloma Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92803
3/7/60 11/26/85

Harrison Lapahie worked for 33 straight years at Rockwell International! First with North American Aviation at the L.A. International Airport, and then with a division of North American Aviation, Autonetics. North American Aviation was later brought out by Rockwell International.

Street City From To
Bruce Bernard & Co.
Trading Post
Shiprock, NM 1/28/23 4/26/43
Camp Penelton, CA
Pacific Islands (USMC)
Rio-Nanun, Saipan,
Tinian, Guadacanal,
Iwo Jima
4/26/43 4/28/45
1522 S. Broadway Witchita, KS 3/7/52 8/9/52
P.O. Box 341 Shiprock, NM 8/9/52 8/25/52
817 E. 3rd St. Los Angeles, CA Aug 1952 Feb 1953
148 W. 18th St. Los Angeles, CA Feb 1953 June 1953
1706 S. Santee St. Los Angeles, CA June 1953 Mar 1955
407½ N. Bixel St. Los Angeles, CA Mar 1955 June 1955
1706 S. Santee St. Los Angeles, CA June 1955 Aug 1955
216 W. 18th St. Los Angeles, CA 8/1/55 6/1/58
1428 S. Oak St. Los Angeles, CA 6/1/58 6/24/60
1632½ W. 12th Place Los Angeles, CA 6/24/55 11/26/85

Willie Lapahie
Cora Henderson
Harrison Lapahie Jr.

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