CARL GORMAN [AND THE NAVAJO CODE TALKERS] -- WITH VERY APPRECIATIVE COMMENT BY ME [HUNTER GRAY 1/18/02]
From: Doris A. Paul, The Navajo Code Talkers [Philadelphia: Dorrance & Co., 1973], Page 102. Carl gave this book to me as a gift. Hunter [Hunter Bear] [Formerly John R. Salter, Jr.]
Notes by Hunter Bear:
The Navajo Code Talkers, subject of this attached short article, exemplify a
number of very solid things: great courage in combat during World War II,
fraternal veterans' cohesion over the subsequent decades, the tremendous
vitality of the tribal cultures -- including the Native languages.
This enduring and vigorous life of the Native tribal nations and their
cultures is something of which many non-Indians are simply not aware.
Tribal societies and cultures, far from being anachronistic museum pieces,
are very much alive -- strong, sharp, vital.
The Navajo Code Talker contribution -- as U.S. Marines, giving themselves
and the Navajo language to the heroic war effort in the South Pacific -- was
an extremely significant one. The Navajo language is extraordinarily
complex and, unless you grow up in that setting, it's virtually impossible
to learn. The bewildered Japanese, well versed in global linguistics, could
not crack even one tiny facet of it.
The Code Talker ranks are now thinning very fast. Four years ago this
month, one of our close friends, Carl Gorman, a major Navajo artist and a
Code Talker, died at 90 at Gallup, New Mexico. [He was the father of
another contemporary and well known Navajo artist, R.C. Gorman of Taos,
My own father died unexpectedly in Arizona in April, 1978 -- and, at about
the same time, my mother lost most of her eyesight. It fell to me to make a
number of frequently very difficult decisions -- e.g., medical matters and,
eventually, withdrawal of life supports for Dad. I was very close to my
father and this was a very tough time. I handled everything appropriately
and, outwardly, with relative calm. At the end of that summer, we moved
from Rochester, New York, to the Navajo Nation -- where I handled several
key positions at Navajo Community College [now Dine' College] which had been founded by Dad's great art student, Ned A. Hatathli. Ned, a close family
friend always, had -- beset by extremely hostile pressures from the U.S.
Bureau of Indian Affairs and from the increasingly corrupt Tribal Chairman,
Peter MacDonald -- died tragically in 1972.
I was given an office in the Ned A. Hatathli Cultural Center -- an imposing
building that rises high into the turquoise sky over the sage brush, cedars,
pinons, and yellow pines and where the very nearby Lukachukai Mountains are
even higher! That was a big personal plus for me. But another very big one
was that Carl Gorman, artist and Code Talker, had a large office with
several prominent medicine men immediately next to mine. My father and Carl
always had enormous respect for each other as humans and as artists. Neither
ever -- ever -- created his art for the tourist market and each defied all
efforts to force him into a stereotypical mode of any kind. Carl was a
graduate of the Otis Art Institute at Los Angeles [went there on the GI
Bill] and Dad of the Chicago Art Institute.
In the Cultural Center named for Ned and with Carl and his colleagues right
next door to me, I could not have been in a better setting and in better
company [Navajo medicine men -- traditional religious leaders and
healers -- are rigorously trained for 17 years before they are full fledged
practitioners. "Western" physicians from U.S. Indian Health Service now
work very closely and consistently with the Navajo medicine men.]
Anyway, Carl Gorman and I -- and the medicine men -- spent much time
together over the next few years. And Carl told me a great deal about his
Code Talker experiences. He also gave me a book -- Doris Paul's The Navajo
Code Talkers [Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1973] and he wrote a very kind
inscription to me on the page that carries his in-combat photograph from
Saipan, South Pacific, June 1944.
An excellent book on Carl and his work -- with many fine photos and
illustrations -- is Carl Gorman's World, by Henry and Georgia Greenberg
[Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984.]
In our home here in Idaho, there hangs a large glass-framed poster,
advertising one of Carl's exhibits: the 1980 Reflections and Promises [ A
Tribute To Contemporary Native American Art] at Taos. The color painting is
"The Rope" and it shows a tied wild horse, fighting a rope in the Navajo
sage country. It's all wild and alive. Carl signed the poster.
I miss him. And when I hear Code Talker, I first and always think Carl
Gorman [Kin-yah-onny beyeh - "Son of Towering House People."]
Hunter [Hunter Bear]
Exhibit honors Code Talkers Capitol Museum displays artifacts of Navajos'
By Ashley Bach
The Arizona Republic Jan. 18, 2002 12:00:00
A steady stream of people filed into a small room in the Arizona Capitol
Museum on Thursday to honor a group of Arizona war heroes who had been forgotten for decades.
About 400 Native Americans from Arizona and New Mexico made up the Navajo Code Talkers, who used the tribe's language to foil the Japanese in World War II. The museum opened an exhibit honoring the veterans, and about 80 citizens, lawmakers and tribal members showed up Thursday to catch a glimpse of the group's secret past.
"It's about time these elders here got recognized," said Tom Jackson, a
Creek from Phoenix. "The Code Talkers are saying we can do this, we can celebrate. For a long time, they kept quiet."
Indeed, until the late 1960s, no one knew the Code Talkers existed. It
wasn't until the military decided it wouldn't need the Navajo code during the
Vietnam War that the group's illustrious history emerged.
Since then, the group has slowly gained recognition. Last year, the
surviving members received congressional medals, and this summer, a major movie about the Code Talkers, Windtalkers, will be released.
Only about 150 are alive, but those who survive proudly reap the benefits of
Thomas Claw, a Code Talker from Parker who attended the opening, said
younger generations now want to hear about his experiences.
"Wherever we're introduced, people point to me and say, 'That's a Navajo
Code Talker,' " he said. "A lot of people appreciate it."
The exhibit isn't the first time the group has been honored by a state
museum. In 1990, a similar exhibit was unveiled at the Arizona Hall of Fame in
Phoenix. Soon after it closed, people began asking when another would open, said Michael Carman, director of the museum division of the Arizona State Library.
On display are photos of the Code Talkers at various stages, from leaving
for boot camp to sitting outside their homes decades after the war. Uniforms,
radios, code samples and other artifacts are also part of the exhibit, which
will stay open for a year.
The exhibit is in the Old Capitol Building, 1700 W. Washington St., Phoenix.
For information, call (602) 542-4675.
Many historians credit the veterans with helping turn the tide of the war.
Their code, based on Navajo translations of military terms, was never broken
by the Japanese and was integral to many victories in the Pacific.
Their courage has inspired a younger generation of Native Americans to
military service, said Rep. Sylvia Laughter, D-Kayenta, a Navajo. The Code Talkers' ability to memorize the complicated code and use it in battle is an example for their people, she said.
"It's amazing to me that they took it upon themselves to bear that
responsibility," Laughter said. "It is an honor for me to say I'm a member
of the Navajo Nation."
For my June 15, 2002 discussion of the film, Windtalkers, see:
MY FAVORABLE IMPRESSIONS OF WINDTALKERS [HUNTER GRAY] -- OR SIMPLY GO ON TO THE NEXT PAGE