CAMP VERDE, Ariz. (AP) - A member of an elite group of Marines who developed a code based on their native language during World War II has died. Lloyd Oliver's death Wednesday means that only one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers survives. Oliver's nephew, Lawrence, says his uncle died at a hospice center in the Phoenix suburb of Avondale, where he had been staying for about three weeks. He was 88 years old. Hundreds of Navajos followed in their footsteps of the original 29, sending thousands of messages without error on Japanese troop movements, battlefield tactics and other communications critical to the war's ultimate outcome. Navajo President Ben Shelly has ordered flags lowered across the reservation from Friday through Monday in honor of Oliver. Funeral services have not been set. Lloyd Oliver, among last of original Code Talkers, dies at 87 Mar 18, 2011 It took a little effort to get Lloyd Oliver into a dress coat in 2001 as he prepared to receive a 24-karat Congressional Gold Medal for being one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers. But when he saw the Marine Corps C-9 plane sent by his fellow Marines to take him to the Washington, D.C., celebration, his shy demeanor fell away and he beamed. Oliver, who died Wednesday at age 87 of pancreatitis, is being remembered as a humble man, a talented silversmith and proud patriot. The Glendal e resident was the second-to-last remaining Navajo Code Talker of the original group that designed an unbreakable oral code using their native tongue to confuse the Japanese during World War II. The last survivor, Chester Nez, lives in New Mexico. Yvonne Murphy, recording secretary for Navajo Code Talkers Association, said the loss of Oliver is "a sad day in Navajo history." "He was one of the ones who laid the foundation for the design of the language that the Code Talkers used," Murphy said. Oliver's death is a reminder to honor the work of the original Code Talkers and the wave of hundreds of other Code Talkers who followed, Murphy said. Oliver, who was born in Shiprock, N.M., would have turned 88 April 23. In 1942 at age 19, he left the reservation to help in the war. After training as a Code Talker, he served on the islands of Guadalcanal, New Britain, Saipan and Peleliu. He was a corporal when the Marines cut him loose in 1945. Over the years, his memory of the war faded but some never vanished, including the night when he was in a foxhole on Guadalcanal and "the bombs rained" down, knocking him unconscious. When he awoke, bodies of his fellow Marines and of Japanese soldiers were scattered around him. During the 2001 celebration, President George W. Bush noted the importance of finally recognizing the original group. "Today, we honor 29 Native Americans who, in a desperate hour, gave their country a service only they could give," he said. When asked by an Arizona Republic reporter in 2001 about his legacy, Oliver was hesitant. "Am I a hero? I don't know," Oliver said after some thought. "Yeah. I'll be a hero," he finally said. "I'll go for that. Yeah." Getting to serve his country was an honor for Oliver, said Marilynn Atkinson, who developed a deep friendship with him starting in the 1970s. Oliver, a silversmith, made jewelry that Atkinson sold in her store, Atkinson's Trading Post in Scottsdale. "He was such a good soul," she said. "He was always very quiet, soft-spoken and a little shy. But he was just somebody you enjoyed being around." And he was talented, she said. "Back then, silversmiths didn't sign their work but had their own distinctive style. He always liked the heavier weight of silver and working with larger stones." Oliver sold pieces in her store into the 1990s, and they stayed friends beyond that. When it came time for him to travel to D.C., Murphy said he didn't talk about it much but was willing to go through a slight metamorphosis, clothes-wise, to prepare. Oliver had simple tastes, favoring polyester pants, a plain shirt, sneakers and a purple Diamondbacks cap. By the time he met President Bush, it became gray jacket, brown vest, white shirt and brown cowboy boots. But he put the purple baseball cap back on. Atkinson said Oliver never talked much about his time helping the country win the war. "Getting the medal didn't change him much," she said. "But he was proud of what he had done. He couldn't wait to show off his medal." Murphy, whose father, Raymond Smith Sr., was one of the Code Talkers who came after the original group, said Oliver's contribution "speaks volumes for himself, the Navajo people and the United States." "It was such a complex code that just couldn't be broken," Murphy said. Oliver is survived by his wife, five children, six stepchildren, 19 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren. His memorial is scheduled for 10 a.m. today at Gila River Crossing Presbyterian Church, on 51st Avenue, south of Dobbins Road in Laveen. Member of Original 29 Code Talkers Dies in U.S. CAMP VERDE, Arizona -- Lloyd Oliver wasn't much of a talker, but it was clear that he was proud to have his native language serve as a key weapon during World War II. As part of an elite group of Marines, he helped develop and implement a code based on the Navajo language that helped win the war. Years later, his hearing remained impaired because of gun blasts and other explosives during the war. He rarely brought up his time as a Code Talker, but his eyes gleamed when holding a picture of himself in his uniform. He kept a Marine cap and a U.S. flag displayed on his bedroom walls in the home he shared with his wife on the Yavapai Apache Reservation. Oliver's death Wednesday means that only one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers survives -- Chester Nez of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Oliver died at a hospice center in a Phoenix suburb where he had been staying for about three weeks, his nephew, Lawrence, said Friday. Military records put his age as 87 although Oliver's wife said he was 88 when he died. "It's very heartbreaking to know that we are losing our Navajo Code Talkers, and especially one of the original 29 whose stories would be tremendously valuable," said Yvonne Murphy, secretary of the Navajo Code Talkers Foundation. Hundreds of Navajos followed in the original code talkers' footsteps, sending thousands of messages without error on Japanese troop movements, battlefield tactics and other communications critical to the war's ultimate outcome. The Code Talkers took part in every assault the Marines conducted in the Pacific. Navajo President Ben Shelly called Oliver a "national treasure" and ordered flags lowered across the reservation in his honor. Oliver, who preferred not to have a hearing aid, spoke audibly but his words could be difficult to understand. The Code Talkers were instructed not to discuss their roles and felt compelled to honor those orders even after the code was declassified in 1968. His military records make a single mention of "code talker." He otherwise was listed as "communication duty," or "communication personnel." Oliver was attending school in New Mexico when he signed up for the Marine Corps in 1942 and was discharged as a corporal three years later. Much of his military record focuses on the financial support he provided for his siblings. Oliver wrote in a 1943 document that his father died recently and his mother didn't make enough to take care of them. He would send $15 or $20 a month to his mother, Ollie, who worked at the U.S. Army's Navajo Ordnance Depot in Bellemont at the time. "I am now the chief support," he declared in the document. Oliver's brother, Willard, also served as a Code Talker and died in October 2009. Lawrence Oliver, who is Willard's son, said the two men never spent much time together because his father lived on the reservation and his uncle worked as a silversmith in the Phoenix area. He recalled one day in the early 1970s when Willard Oliver looked toward a mountain on to a dirt road in the reservation town of Lukachukai and saw a man driving up. "I'm looking for Willard Oliver," Lawrence Oliver recalled the man saying. Turns out, the driver -- Lloyd Oliver -- was in the right place. When he married his second wife, Lucille, in 2006 after they had been together for years, he was able to mutter "I do." But "those were the only two words," she said. The couple moved to the Phoenix area last year as his health was failing. His family remembered him as a quiet, giving man. "We will miss his wonderful smile most of all. He loved his family and was very proud to be a Navajo Code Talker," his stepdaughter, Louanna Hall said in a statement. Oliver's attention to cleanliness was meticulous. He smoothed out wrinkles in a tablecloth, picked up crumbs from the floor, and brushed the dirt off the stucco wall and rose petals off the driveway during a visit with The Associated Press in September 2009. Oliver communicated with most people through body language or notes, though he could understand what was being said and particularly liked being spoken to in Navajo. During the visit with the AP, he muttered his recollection of his service as "overseas in the war," and laughed off assertions that he was famous for it. Oliver's life was peppered with honors and awards after the Code Talkers became well known. He received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2001 and served as a guest of honor in the nation's largest Veterans Day parade. Oliver traveled with his grandson and a dozen other Code Talkers to New York in November 2009. He smiled as he looked up at the tall buildings and visited HBO studios and Ellis Island, said Murphy, of the Navajo Code Talkers Association, who went along on the trip. "He was such a sweet man," said Murphy, the daughter of a Code Talker. "His disposition and character spoke widely of him even though he wasn't verbal." Oliver's funeral was scheduled for Saturday morning at a church on the Gila River Indian Community reservation south of Phoenix.
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