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---- Friday - December 15, 2017 - 10:08:21 PM - Navajo Nation Time ----

Comments concerning
The Silver Congressional Medal of Honors Ceremony
for the Navajo Code Talkers
Saturday, November 24, 2001, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Silver Congressional Medal of Honors Ceremony for the Navajo Code Talkers was the most important event in Navajo History but was badly organized. As Navajos, we should have made this event near perfect, such that the world, who is watching, or the non-Navajo guests, including the media, U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, and other government officials, would have held our people in high regard with excellent organizational skills and the ability to handle an enormous national and media event.

In general, summarizing the main weaknesses was first, that there was little order, from the lack of formal invitations distributed to the Navajo Code Talkers (NCTs) and their families. Second, although a small percentage, many are not familiar with the fairgrounds and needed maps and clear directions on parking and the name and location of the buildings. The parking spaces were not marked causing blocking of vehicles and access to entry and exits. Third, during the registration, people were given mixed messages about forms, tickets and tags and given no direction about seating that led to massive confusion, when Nakai Hall was open for seating of the Navajo Code Talkers, recipient and their families. Fourth, there was a low opinion of the quality of the food given to the Navajo Code Talkers in the Sports Center. And, finally, the Navajo Nation's lack of maintaining a sanitary environment of its restrooms in Nakai Hall, the Sports Center, and the rest of the fairgrounds.

Most of the time, or often, there was no order. The absence and lack of early, or preparation for clear directions, was obvious, as it evidently caused confusion in the registration process, hence forth the seating arrangement, and eventually presentation of the medallions.

In order, this is what was noticed:

1. There seemed to be no order in the registration process.

The Navajo audience, in general, didn't know which line to get in, even though a Navajo registrar official, at about 20 minute intervals, yelled to the crowd where to go. He tried his best. More Navajo speaking people should have been solicited to help with the registration, directions, and crowd control. More signs definitely would have helped. One information desk should have been available visibly outside to instruct people in Navajo on where to go first with a bit of orderly information of the events of the day. To eliminate the lack of lines and crowd at registration, perhaps it would have been easier and faster if multiple alphabetized lines were formed.

Some Navajo Code Talker family members never received an invitation. One instance would be Navajo Code Talker, Harrison Lapahie's family (son Harrison Lapahie Jr., wife Lillie Lapahie) from Huntington Park, CA. They arrived at 8:00 am, and found out that Navajos Code Talkers or their family had to register, and that most also had an official invitation mailed to them. It made the son, Jr., a little sad and quite disappointed, because they were not officially invited, even though they previously knew about the event. Invitations, agenda, directions with maps, and letters explaining the events of the day, should have been mailed out at least a week before the event, or at the latest, made available to all at the gate or at registration. At least, the maps of the building and seating arrangements, directions, and a list in order (1, 2, 3, etc) of where the recipients should proceed, should have been available at the gate for everyone.

The registrars didn't have a correct list of who was to accept the Silver Medal for the Navajo Code Talker family. Some Navajo Code Talkers, or other family members, who suppose to receive the medal, instead had other family members listed as to receive the medal. There were too many people with lists of names.

Legal forms releasing liability for accepting the silver medal were not properly signed during the registration process. Two sets of directions were given. One was to sign the forms now and retained at the registration, and the other was to sign after the medal was received but no direction on who to give the form to nor where that would be. During the ceremony, people were amongst the CTs and other recipients collecting the forms.

Nametags were not available to all Navajo Code Talkers or a Navajo Code Talker family representative, at the registration table. Some young ladies were trying to find who's who during the ceremony, crawling over NCTs, widow and child recipients in the rows, and blocking the audiences view.

The families of the first 29 Navajo Code Talkers didn't know if they should register, or where they were going to sit. They didn't know who had their tickets or passes to enter Nakai Hall or attend the meal reception afterwards!

It was implied that people needed red tickets, blue tickets, and red tags but in the end nobody was keeping track of them. The person at the door to Nakai Hall didn't take them, the people in the hall claimed they weren't responsible for checking them, and we just walked into the Center for the reception with no one asking for a show of blue tickets. We went home with all the tickets we got at registration.

2. There was no order in the seating of Navajo Code Talkers.

After the Navajo Code Talkers and family members sat themselves, attempts were made to reseat the Navajo Code Talkers. A few rearranged themselves in alphabetical order, but for the most part it didn't work. If the organizers wanted the NCT to seat alphabetized, they should have name tagged the seats prior to opening the doors and gave clear instructions to seat in an alphabetized order, the order in which the medal would be presented. Signs would have also helped on who was to sit where as, the recipient, Navajo Nation band, VIP and who they were, first 29, family members, and the general audience. Band members were also wondering around asking where to sit.

There also weren't enough seats for all the Navajo Code Talkers and their recipient family member (widow or child). Some Code Talkers or family members went to the back of Nakai Hall and got folding chairs to place them in the aisles in order to sit in the front with other Navajo Code Talkers and family members. This made the aisles narrow for people to walk. There were no arrangements to set aside an area for those in wheel chairs which eventually blocked the aisles that others couldn't get by.

Although fluent and an excellent media person, the Master of Ceremony did not know the code talkers, therefore, skipped over some NCTs and repeated some names. This was really evident, toward the end when the Yazzies and Zahs were named; she started naming some of those who were already named and received the medals. There was unnecessary fumbling and dropping of paper at the podium.

3. Former Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald and New Mexico Senator John Pinto received the Silver Congressional Medal of Honor

Former Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald and NM Senator John Pinto (D-Tohatchi), were trained as radiomen but never used the code in action because World War II ended while they were at a transition center in Hawaii, yet they received the Silver Congressional Medal of Honor as Navajo Code Talkers under a roar of clapping and praises. For years, MacDonald was not accepted into the Navajo Code Talker Association (NCTA) because they could not verify his record. Only in recent years have the NCTA officials and the Navajo President's office lobbied for his inclusion. MacDonald spent 8 years incarcerated in a federal prison, and was commuted by U.S. President Bill Clinton, in the last 2 hours of his presidency in January 20, 2001. Peter MacDonald had been in a Fort Worth, Texas, medical prison since his 1992 sentence for his role in a Window Rock, AZ riot that resulted in the deaths of two of his supporters in 1989. Peter MacDonald had been removed from office for taking bribes and kickbacks. Two of his supporters were killed on July 20, 1989, by Navajo Nation Police during a march to protest on what they considered a coup against their leader, Peter MacDonald. MacDonald had been in deteriorating health and had been serving a 14-year sentence for inciting the deadly riot; yet, he was in good health at the silver awards ceremony, and walked by himself up the podium, as he received the Silver Congressional Medal of Honor. Additionally, only since the time that the gold medals were to be presented in Washington, D.C., did MacDonald decide to associate with the NCTA and to even wear the NCTA garrison cap.

4. Use of Military Escorts vs Congestion

During the presentation of medals, military escorts were used causing too many people to be on stage. These escorts should have been limited to those in wheel chairs or in need of assistance across the stage. Some CTs and widows did need this help, but most of the CT's children did not and caused unnecessary clutter of bodies on stage. Some of the CTs even refused assistance by pulling away, yet the escorts still held on to them.

5. Navajo Code Talker Association President Dr. Billison spoke and nobody listened.

Many of the Code Talkers, widows, or family member, left immediately after receiving their medals which was a very disrespectful act. Perhaps thinking the event was over, people started socializing, and asking Navajo Code Talkers for signatures while NCTA President, Dr. Samuel Billison spoke, yet nobody listened. Out of respect, the Master of Ceremony should have made a point that the awards ceremony was not over, to please sit down, and listen to Dr. Billison's presentation. Dr. Billison should have been given the time to speak early on in the awards ceremony before the medals were issued. It seemed irrational that he was placed at the end of the agenda along with Nina Begay who sang the Navajo Marine Hymn. Placing them at the end of the agenda took away the importance of the NCTA's role and the Marine Corps in its entirety.

The recipients should have at least stuck around to thank the officers of the NCTA organization, the organizers, and especially, House Representative Tom Udall (D-NM), and NM Senator Bingaman's Assistant Dana Krupa, for the tremendous amount of work they put into giving the NCTs this belated recognition. It is hoped that the recipients should become more involved with the organization in the future. It is quite pitiful that during the monthly regular code talker meetings in Gallup, only 10 to 20 NCTs are present, and in addition, even less than five family member of deceased NCT are present to discuss NCT's matters. Yet, these few active members struggle with finances to keep the NCTA going. They are numerous requests daily for CTs to travel nation wide, sometimes internationally, for presentations. It is causing travel stress on a few CTs and their families. From Saturday, Nov 24th's attendance, it was obvious that more CTs and family member are out there to help out with the burden the few are carrying. From the newspapers, over 3000 people attended the ceremony. It would be great to see lots, lots, and all of those who attended the ceremony to be ACTIVE in the NCTA organization. There is a lot of work ahead as fund raising, development of a curriculum for widows and children to be present, to assist with travel arrangements, and development of the NCTA auxiliary organization. There is going to be a time when all the NCTs will be gone and it will be up to the descendants to carry on the message, so the family members need to get involved now! Children whose NCT fathers are still with us need to learn as much as they can from their fathers by asking questions without hesitation. They need to document, write or tape record, as much of their experiences as possible to share with the world, especially the youth of the Navajo Nation. From our families, thank you Dr. Billison and the active members of the NCTA!

6. The food at the reception was quickly prepared and of low quality.

It would have been better to have butchered a lot of goats and sheep, to have mutton, ribs, a'chii', frybread, corn, etc., to give the Navajo Code Talkers and their family. That would have made a better impression to the non-Navajo guest and Code Talkers and their families. The reception gave the impression that who ever was in charge of this part of the ceremony put in the minimal effort. Salad (mixed lettuce), refried beans, store bought Mexican tortillas, two cheese and tomato enchiladas, Hawaiian punch, and instant tea, was an unsatisfactory meal after this most very important event in the Navajo Nation's history, a very historical moment in the U.S. history as well.

There was probably a switch with the food services. The Navajo Code Talkers and their family members were eating over-cooked and cold dried enchiladas inside the Sport Center, while the general public was eating hot meals from Earls outside in the Food Court.

7. The public restrooms were dirty and out-of-order at the Sports Center and Nakai Hall.

Woman's restrooms had no toilet paper, and men's toilets were out-of-order. The low upkeep of the restrooms gave a negative impression of how the Navajo Nation takes care of their public toilets at the Navajo Nation's Fairgrounds. These restrooms have been kept in this condition for decades. The same experience was noticed of these restrooms in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it STILL the same. For decades! Come on Navajo Nation, this is very uncalled for! We can provide a much more sanitary restroom environment for the NCTs, family members and other people who came to this event. What happened to the NAIHS Office of Environmental Health people who are suppose to inspect these facilities to maintain sanitary facilities?

Finally on a more positive note

The positive part is that while there were some disappointments, the Navajo Code Talkers had finally received some type of belated recognition from the U.S. government. Some of those in attendance on the podium platform were New Mexico Senator Udall who gave an outstanding presentation, Arizona State Representative Sylvia Laughter (Navajo, D-Kayenta), NM State Legislature Senator John Pinto (Navajo, D-Tohatchi), Golfer Notah Begay III (Navajo/Pueblo), Miss Navajo Nation Jolyana Begay, Navajo Nation President Kelsey Begaye, Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council Edward Begay, NM Senator Jeff Bingaman's Assistant Dana Krupa, and others. It was too bad that New Mexico Senator Bingaman was not able to attend in person. Thank you, Senator Bingaman and Representative Udall! The service the Navajo Code Talkers provided to the United States of America is probably the most important event in Navajo Nation History. It was a very special moment for the Navajo Code Talkers and their family. This may be an event that may never happen again of this magnitude.

Our Diné are glad that the NCTs were finally recognized by the US government for the sacrifices they made to a nation (U.S.) who did not allow them to vote on their government issues at the time. After the end of War War II, it wouldn't be until 1948 that Arizona would allow Navajos the right to vote, and it won't be until 1953 that New Mexico, and 1957 that Utah, grant Navajos the right to vote. Even though the Navajos weren't allowed to vote during World War II, more than 3,600 Navajos served in the military, and over 10,000 Navajos went to work in the weapon's factories. Proportionately, that data represented one of the highest percentages of total population in the armed service of any ethnic group in the United States!

In conclusion, it would have been an even more marvelous event if all the Navajo Code Talkers, who had passed away, would have received their medals in person. It took the United States of America 56 years since the end of World War II to finally officially bestow some type of recognition, as the Congressional Medal of Honor, to them. Most of the Navajo Code Talkers had already died! A few of the Navajo Code Talkers, who just passed away, deserved to receive their medals in person. They worked so hard by passing the petition for people's signature everywhere they went. Although most people supported the NCTs in their effort with their signatures, they accepted criticism from others. They missed what they so valiantly worked for that had actually come to fruition. On behalf of these Navajo Code Talkers with us in spirit and memory, the families honorarily accepted the silver medals.

By:
Christine Benally
Harrison Lapahie Jr.
Jean Whitehorse

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URL: http://www.lapahie.com /NCT_Silver_Awards.cfm
Creator(s): Harrison Lapahie Jr.
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Dated Created: 12/05/2001
Version: 2.1
Updated: 04/28/2010
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