OLJATO-MONUMENT VALLEY, Utah – Just outside the Welcome Center, the otherworldly landscape of crimson mesas and spires, that has been his home for most of his life, Samuel Tom Holiday was celebrated at his funeral on June 15 as a hero who played a vital role in America’s victory in World War II.
Holiday, one of the last surviving Navajo Code Talkers, died June 11, just nine days after his 94th birthday celebration at his home in Kayenta, Arizona. He died at the Southern Utah Veterans Home in Ivins, Utah, his family announced that day.
Holiday was born in the early 1920s to the late Betsy Yellow and the late Billy Holiday. He was born approximately June 2 (dates in those days were determined by the seasonal changes), five miles east of the Goulding’s area, just south of Eagle Rock and Eagle Mesa in Oljato-Monument Valley.
Holiday was a member of Headquarters and Service Company’s 25th Marine Regiment and served with the 4th Marine Division from 1943 to 1945 at Iwo Jima, the Marshall Islands, Pacific Theater, and the Northern Mariana Islands – Saipan and Tinian. Holiday received a Congressional Silver Medal and a Purple Heart for his military service.
On Friday, as his coffin, draped with an American flag, was guarded by uniformed honor guards, some of the great political figures in the Navajo Nation – including former Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald Sr. – gathered to honor the code talker.
Navajo President Russell Begaye called Holiday a friend and a hero who was admired by the Diné people, adding that he was recognized by the U.S. government for his role in reversing the trend of events during World War II in the Pacific Theater.
“Out on the battlefield, you’re not a warrior by yourself,” Begaye said during the service. “You’re not a warrior alone. You are there with your comrades watching each other, having each other’s backs, protecting one another, making sure that everything is all right.”
Begaye went on to say, “Holiday was out there with his comrades, battling the enemy so that we could have the freedom we enjoy. Today we honor him.”
Holiday attended Tuba City Boarding School before he enlisted in the Marines and trained as a code talker, during which he was armed with “the greatest weapon.”
That weapon, Begaye says, is the Navajo language (Diné bizaad).
“That weapon is mightier than missiles, tanks and artillery,” he said. “That weapon is Diné bizaad, the language given to us by the Creator.”
Begaye ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff Navajo Nation-wide on Friday to honor Holiday and read a proclamation in which he recognized the code talker as a “beloved leader, hero and brave warrior.” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert also declared Friday “Samuel Tom Holiday Day.”
Vice President Jonathan Nez also told the Lake Powell Chronicle that his thoughts and prayers are with Holiday’s family.
“He was a dedicated advocate for the youth, health and wellness,” he wrote in a statement. “His family would bring Mr. Holiday to the Navajo Nation Park Race Series and congratulated every finisher.”
Nez said when he was growing up near Shonto, Arizona, he often heard stories about the bravery and courage of the code talkers.
“The Western Navajo people took pride knowing we had Mr. Holiday representing our communities,” he added, “we will always remember his words of encouragement and inspiration.”
After Holiday was discharged from the Marines, he made his home in Kayenta where he worked as a police officer, a park ranger, and a uranium mine worker. He married Lupita Mae Isaac in 1954 and together they had eight children, 33 grandchildren, 28 great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
Helena H. Begaii, daughter of Holiday, said last weekend that her father may be a war hero, but he would always be a father first.
“A grandpa, a nálí (paternal grandfather),” Begaii said during her father’s birthday celebration in Kayenta. “He’s always going to be daddy first, to all of us, his grandkids, he’ll always be daddy. And being a code talker is just an extra star in the sky. He’s way up there and him being a code talker is a lot more special.”
Holiday’s family on June 5 created a GoFundMe page so that his family residing far away would travel to be with him in Ivins. More than $3,890 of a $5,000 goal was donated to the campaign.
“He just celebrated his 94th birthday and took a trip back … home to Kayenta … for a special ceremony,” Tamera Hernandez stated on the GoFundMe page. “We did not expect what would happen next, which we over exhausted himself and now in hospice care.”
Hernandez also wrote that he loves Mountain Dew, snacks, and loved a number of other things, including hunting at Bears Ears in southeastern Utah, watching sports, and caring for his children and grandchildren.
The Patriot Guard Riders of Southern Utah and the Navajo-Hopi Honor Riders escorted the body of Holiday home to Navajo lands on Friday morning. The escort was followed by a procession of Holiday’s family members as law enforcement personnel, including guided the escort to a certain point. The Navajo Nation Police took over near Shonto. Holiday was buried at the Kayenta Community Veterans Cemetery.