Willard Varnell Oliver Member of the elite group of Navajo Code Talkers, dies at 88 PRESCOTT, Ariz. (Associated Press) - Willard Varnell Oliver, a member of the Navajo Code Talkers who confounded the Japanese during World War II by transmitting messages in their native language, died Wednesday. He was 88. Lawrence Oliver said his father died at the Northern Arizona Veterans Administration Health Care System Hospital in Prescott, Ariz. He had been declining health for the past two years. Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. ordered flags on the Navajo Nation to be flown at half-staff from Oct. 15-19 in honor of Oliver, who is at least the fifth Code Talker to die since May. Oliver was part of an elite group of Navajo Marines who confused the Japanese during World War II by transmitting messages in Navajo. The Code Talkers took part in every assault the Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. Their work was declassified in 1968. Oliver, who grew up between Shiprock and Farmington, N.M., served in the South Pacific with the 2nd Marine Division from 1943 to 1945. He was wounded during the battle of Saipan of 1944. Oliver's brother, Lloyd Oliver, was also a member of the elite group. Navajo Code Talker Willard V. Oliver passes on Oct 15, 2009 For the second time this week, flags on the Navajo Nation are being flown at half-mast to honor the passing of a soldier. Navajo Code Talker Willard Varnell Oliver, 88, of Lukachukai, Ariz., died Wednesday. President Joe Shirley Jr. ordered flags at half-staff from Oct. 15 through Oct. 19 in honor of Oliver. Shirley had ordered flags at half-mast from Oct. 14 to 17 in honor of U.S. Army Sgt. Kenneth Westbrook who died Oct. 7 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Oliver died at the Northern Arizona Veterans Administration Health Care System Hospital in Prescott, Ariz. He had been in declining health for the past two years, said his son Lawrence Oliver, executive director of the Navajo Nation's Division of Human Resources, according to a press release from the president's office. He was proud to be a code talker and had long been active in the Navajo Code Talkers Association, according to the press release. Oliver grew up between Shiprock and Farmington and graduated from the Shiprock Agricultural High School in 1940. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on March 23, 1943, and served in the South Pacific with the 2nd Marine Division. He was honorably discharged on Dec. 11, 1945. "I had an SCR 300 radio pack strapped to my back along with a carbine semi-automatic over my right shoulder," Oliver told his son Lawrence in 2007 in recollecting his experiences. "While we were trying to get ashore (at Tarawa in 1943), the beach water was completely red with blood.
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