RIVERSIDE, Calif., July 22 (UPI) -- Joe Morris Sr., a Navajo who served as a U.S. Marine code talker during World War II, has died after suffering a stroke, his daughter said.
Morris was hospitalized at the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial VA Center in Loma Linda, Calif., Colleen Anderson told the Los Angeles Times. He was 85.
Several hundred Navajo code talkers were trained to provide instant radio communications for the Marines that the Japanese would be unable to understand. The actual code created Navajo words for military items, with the term for submarine becoming "besh-sho" or "iron fish" while a bomber was a "jay-sho" or buzzard.
U.S. military officials knew no one outside North America spoke Navajo. They did not want anyone learning the language.
In a 2003 interview with the Navajo Times, Morris described the instructions they got: "If you get captured by the Japanese don't you ever tell them what you learned here. Just die for your country."
Morris grew up on the vast Navajo Nation, which extends across parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. His education ended when the boarding school he attended was converted to an internment camp for Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor.
In a 1998 interview with the Modesto (Calif.) Bee, Morris said he went to a Navajo medicine man after he was drafted. He said the medicine man prayed a day and a half for his safety.
After the war, Morris worked as a civilian at a Marine supply center in Barstow, Calif. Anderson said his father obeyed orders and never discussed his wartime work, even with his wife, until after it was declassified in 1968.