Navajo Code Talker Wilfred E. Billey Walks On The Navajo Nation mourns the loss of the late Navajo Code Talker Wilfred E. Billey. Billey left us on December 12, 2013. His funeral is scheduled for December 21, at the First United Methodist Church in Farmington, New Mexico. Billey was 90 years old and lived in Farmington. His clans are Táchii’nii (Red Running Into the Water) and Tl’aashchi’i (Red Cheek People). His maternal grandfathers are Naasht’ézhí Dine’é (Zuni) and his paternal grandfathers are Hooghan lání (Many Hogans). On December 13, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed a proclamation to have all flags on the Nation to be flown at half-mast in honor of Billey’s passing, from December 13 to 20. “The Navajo Nation is greatly saddened by the loss of the late Wilfred E. Billey, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps,” President Shelly said. “The Navajo Nation unites and offers prayers for his family and friends during this time of grief.” Billey’s daughter, Barbara, said she was working on a biography of her father before his passing. “My dad was an educator and assisted educating the Elderhostel, Inc. Road Scholar program from around the world. He really pushed for education, especially for scholarships for the children of Navajo Code Talkers,” she said. Billey also worked for the Navajo Methodist Mission School, Central Consolidated School District and Farmington municipal schools. He informed the youth and world about the role the Navajo Code Talkers played in the fight for freedom during World War II. The following account is from Barbara Billey’s conversations with her father on his memories of the war: Born on December 28, 1922, Wilfred E. Billey was raised by his grandparents and lived a simple life. They spent their summers in the Chuska Mountains above Sanostee, New Mexico, herding sheep and farming. The family lived in a traditional forked stick hogan. Billey attended Toadlena Boarding School and was taken to school on horseback by his grandfather. For junior high, he attended school at Shiprock. Eventually, he became friends with William Yazzie, who later changed his name to William Dean Wilson, one of the Original 29 Code Talkers. In 1941, Billey was enrolled at Navajo Methodist Mission School in Farmington, a boarding school providing a strong Methodist background for young Navajos. One day, the school superintendent informed students that the U.S. Marine Corps was looking for a few good men fluent in Navajo and English. He asked for volunteers and 11 students stepped forward, including Billey. Of the 11 men, eight passed their physical examinations and were inducted into the Marine Corps. Billie’s daughter said military records state he was drafted, but that was untrue because he volunteered for service. The young recruits were sent to Camp Elliot, north of present-day Camp Pendleton, to undergo 13-weeks of basic training. They coalesced into USMC Platoon 297, the second all-Navajo platoon, comprised of 56 men. The Navajos were trained as radiomen and Platoon 297 was shipped out to New Calendonia, aboard the USS Mount Vernon. Howard Billiman, a member of the original 29 Code Talkers, accompanied the men and served as code instructor. While aboard the ship, the platoon was split up and radiomen were sent to various Marine divisions in the Pacific. Billey was sent to the 2nd Marine Division at Wellington, New Zealand with eight others, including David Tsosie. The men shipped out with their new division and began practicing island hopping. This involved the landing of amphibious landing tractors, or amtracs, on island beaches in preparation for the battles to come. On November 19, 1943, around 10 p.m., the Marines were fed steaks and ice cream. Several hours later, on November 20, at 4:30 a.m., the men invaded the island of Tarawa, the site of one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific Theater. The Marines needed to secure the airport on the island. The Japanese were prepared for the invasion and fired at amtrac engines, resulting in countless explosions and loss of life. Billey would later say he never saw so many dead men. The 6th Marine Division landed on the southeast portion of the island to flank the enemy and met up with the men of the 2nd Marine Division. As the island was secured, Billey would see and talk to his friend Billiman, who had arrived from the Battle of Guadalcanal. On June 15, 1944, the 2nd Marine Division invaded Saipan in the Mariana Islands. Billey and the rest of his communications group made it to the jungle and radioed U.S. ships to fire upon enemy locations. The island was covered with caves and the Japanese hid inside them. Billey said many of the Japanese soldiers committed suicide in the face of defeat, either by gunshot or jumping off Suicide Cliff or Banzai Cliff. During the Battle of Saipan, Billey communicated with Howard Billiman and called in artillery strikes upon the enemy. Billey fought again on the island of Okinawa, where ships were under constant attack by Kamikaze pilots. Billey’s daughter said her father would recall these experiences during World War II with humility and said, “I’m not a hero. The heroes are the ones we left behind.” Billey leaves behind six children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His legacy as a Navajo Code Talker will live on for the generations to come. Navajo Code Talker dies at 90 in New Mexico home FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A Navajo Code Talker, whose words are inscribed on congressional medals given to his group and who fought to have a World War II comrade recognized for his service, died Thursday in New Mexico. Wilfred Billey died at his home in Farmington following a short illness, said his daughter, Barbara. He was 90. He was one of hundreds of Navajo Code Talkers who stumped the Japanese during World War II by relaying messages in their native language. But Barbara Billey said her father never considered himself a hero. "Whenever he talked about the military during that time, he always told people that heroes were the ones he left behind, that he was not a hero," she said. "That everybody pitched in, including the people in the states, the people in the military." After the war, Billey worked with New Mexico's congressional delegation to come up with the words appearing along the bottom of the medals: "Dine Bizaad Yee Atah Naayee' Yik'eh Deesdlii" or "The Navajo language was used to defeat the enemy," his family said. Billey and others stepped in when a former Code Talker, David Tsosie, was taken off the list of honorees in 2001 because his discharge papers did not note he was part of the group. They notified government officials and provided documentation. When former Sen. Jeff Bingaman called Tsosie at a nursing home to tell him he would receive the belated medal, Billey was there. "Both of them just about jumped out of their seats with joy," said James Preminger, who covered the story for the Farmington Daily Times. "He's one of those guys that you meet who is older, who you say, 'Boy, I wish that guy was my uncle.' He was such a humanitarian," said Preminger, now a spokesman for a northwestern New Mexico school district where Billey worked. Billey's path to becoming a Code Talker started while he was attending the Navajo Methodist Mission School. The superintendent learned that the U.S. Marine Corps was looking for Navajo radiomen to follow in the footsteps of 29 other Navajos who had developed a code based on their native language. Billey volunteered in 1943 because he wanted to be with friends who were enlisting, Barbara Billey said. 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. Wilfred Billey, aged 90, died at his home in Farmington, New Mexico, following a short illness. He was one of hundreds of Navajo Code Talkers who stumped the Japanese during World War II by relaying messages in their native language. Mr. Billey fought in the South Pacific arena, with the all-Navajo 297th Platoon, which was part of the 1st Battalion in the 2nd Division. These battles took place in Saipan, the Tarawa Atoll, Tinian, and Okinawa. Before the war, Mr. Billey attended high school at the Navajo Methodist Mission School in Farmington. After the war, Mr. Bailey finished his schooling and also earned bachelor's and master's degrees from New Mexico Highlands University. He also completed graduate work at the University of Wyoming. Mr. Billey worked over 40 years in the schools at Shiprock, New Mexico, as a teacher, an Indian Education director, and a principal. He also served as a counselor - all in northwestern New Mexico. Mr. Billey was honored with a Doctorate of Humane Letters from the College of Sante Fe, New Mexico. Mr. Billey 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. Mr. Billey also was a torchbearer for the 2002 Winter Olympics (Salt Lake City, Utah). Mr. Billey was survived by his wife, Matilda (Tsosie) Billey, daughter of Atsitty Ts'osi and Ida Mae Tsosie; and six children: Barbara M. Billey, Willard Billey, Linda (Billey) Kerr, Elsie S. Billey, Chuck Billey, and Warren P. Billey. Funeral services are scheduled for December 21, 2013, at the First United Methodist Church in Farmington.
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