Richard Bailey Singer
(1913 - 2001)
Tódích'íi'nii - Bitter Water People

Breaking a Code of Silence
Article by Becky Pallack
Arizona Daily Sun Staff Reporter

He didn't talk about the war for 53 years. Then, in 1995, Richard Bailey Singer told dozens of Navajo schoolchildren about his service in the U.S. Marine Corps as a codetalker. He first told his family in 1998.

Singer, who came from the Bitter Water and Reed People clans, was born March 10, 1913, in Monument Valley, and died Dec. 13, 2001, in Kayenta.

During World War II he served in the Marine Corps as a codetalker, radio operator and firefighter. But his community remembers him as a dedicated activist for education issues, father, religious man, artist, hunter and cook. He was articulate in both Navajo and English.

Singer was 28 when he was recruited for service, trained and deployed to the Pacific theater in 1942.

Boot camp came with severe culture shock for most Navajos. They had to cut their long hair and they certainly weren't used to being yelled at. Singer later told his daughter that he adjusted more easily because the boarding school he was sent to was run military-style.

During only four weeks of training at a San Diego military base, Singer learned Morse code and other coding techniques, and he learned to assemble and repair the 80-pound radio he would carry during combat.

The codetalkers were the first off the boat during a mission. Singer would set up his radio, tying the tall antenna to a coconut tree, he told his daughter.

Singer was wounded in the war and awarded a Purple Heart.

From 1942 to 1945, codetalkers served in every Marine division, Marine Raider battalion and Marine parachute unit, using their extremely complex language as a code -- one which the Japanese never broke. The contributions of the 400 Navajo codetalkers to the defense of the nation went unrecognized until 1992 due to a classified security code placed on the language.

Jill Torrance/Arizona Daily Sun NAU President John Haegar accepts Richard Bailey Singer's, a WWII Navajo Code Talker, United States Congressional Silver Medal as a donation to NAU Saturday during a cermony at the NAU. Singer's daughter Sharine Sonny (left) presented the medal in front of 55-members of Singer's extended family and other NAU faculity.


After the war, Singer lived in Flagstaff, working at the Bellemont Army Depot, participating in American Legion activities, volunteering during Navajo elections and winning blue ribbons at county fairs for his leathercrafts.

"He was a very outspoken man, especially when he used to speak in Kayenta to the people at the chapter house, when he would counsel them on what they should do for the community. His main issue was education for our children," said Singer's daughter, Sharine Sonny, of Flagstaff.

With his wife, Katherine Boone Singer, he raised six daughters and two sons, emphasizing the importance of education in their lives. Sonny said one of his proudest moments was seeing one of his daughters graduate under the new Skydome at Northern Arizona University.

Sonny said she grew up with a father she knew as a good cook and a good hunter. He would often surprise the children with a jackrabbit or prairie dog. He taught his kids to play baseball and volleyball.

He never talked about his days as a codetalker.

"He was under oath that he could not talk about it to his family," she said.


When the silence was lifted in the 1980s, Singer kept his memories to himself, rarely mentioning his service until 1998, when Sonny asked him for an interview. She was researching codetalkers, trying to discover their legacy.

"When I was researching, I couldn't find anything on codetalkers," Sonny said. "There's nothing really from the perspective of a family."

Her father agreed to the interview and Sonny said she ran to get her tape recorder.

"He just went jabbering," Sonny said. "It was a therapy for him, he needed to get it out of him."

That's when he started going to schools. Invited to talk for an hour at a school, he would often stay two hours to answer students' many questions.

"I was just proud of him," Sonny said through tears. "He was the type of person who did not want to brag about himself."

Singer was awarded the Congressional Silver Medal in 2001 in Window Rock. That's when the family learned for the first time that Singer's brother, Oscar Singer, also was a codetalker.

"My father felt it was a great honor to serve as a codetalker and was grateful to the government for recognizing his work during World War II," Sonny said.


His medal is now on display at Northern Arizona University, along with his other awards, photographs and written history.

Fifty-five members of Singer's extended family, across four generations, attended the ceremony in which Sonny presented the medal to NAU President John Haeger.

"As a family, we felt Dad had an interest in education and he encouraged his children," said Sonny, an NAU graduate. "He wanted to donate this medal to NAU and we decided to do that in his memory, for him, and honoring him for what he did for his country."

Haeger said NAU is honored by the donation. He said the display will help future generations learn about the codetalkers' service during WWII.

"In a hundred years from now, we will be able to tell that story through the eyes of Richard Singer," Haeger said.

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URL: /Richard_Bailey_Singer_NCT.cfm
Creator(s): Article: Becky Pallack, Webpage: Harrison Lapahie Jr.
Contributor(s): Becky Pallack, Arizona Daily Sun Staff Reporter
Dated Created: 12/14/2002
Version: 2.0
Updated: 04/28/2010
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