Community celebrates Navajo veteran’s 93rd birthday

ST. GEORGE — Samuel Tom Holiday, one of the last surviving World War II Navajo code talkers, celebrated his 93rd birthday surrounded by friends and hundreds of community members at Georgefest Friday evening.

Family and community members sing “Happy Birthday” to Samuel Tom Holiday, a Navajo code talker who served in World War II, for his 93rd birthday at Georgefest, St. George, Utah, June 2, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Holiday’s family set up a booth on Main Street in downtown St. George in which he was surrounded by emblems of achievement, such as medals and other military honors and purchasable copies of his book, “Under the Eagle.”

See video in the media player top of this report.

Guests greeted and shook hands with Holiday, still spry in his old age. People also posed for photographs with the veteran-turned-medicine man.

Holiday enjoyed a “Happy Birthday” chorus by his family and Georgefest attendees as he was presented with a code talker-themed birthday cake.

“I know not many people get opportunities to express their gratitude to my grandfather because most of the birthday parties, they’re local to the family, but now the community’s invited to come out, give appreciation, wish him happy birthday,” John Austin, Holiday’s grandson, said. “I just think it’s great that they’re given the opportunity to give him thanks before be moves on – if he moves on.”

Samuel Tom Holiday, a Navajo code talker who served in World War II, greets guests at his 93rd birthday celebration, St. George, Utah, June 2, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Holiday remains as one of just a handful of other living Navajo code talkers, having originally enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 19 in 1943.

“My grandfather, he was born in a hogan with dirt floors, herding sheep. He joined the military to support his country,” Austin said. “He got in the Marines, went to Camp Pendleton, learned code, went to Saipan, Iwo Jima, Tinian, Marshall Islands.”

Holiday and his fellow code talkers played an instrumental role in the Pacific theater of World War II. They used their language to create a code indecipherable by Japanese combatants, greatly assisting efforts to conduct warfare without tipping off the enemy.

Read more: Navajo code talker Samuel Holiday, 90, gets surprise honors

“Radio transmissions at the time were being broken almost as fast as they could be created,” Austin said, “so with the Navajo code talker(s) communicating to one another, in the language and code, they were able to transmit unbreakable transmissions using their language.”

Samuel Tom Holiday, a Navajo code talker who served in World War II, celebrates his 93rd birthday alongside the community at Georgefest, St. George, Utah, June 2, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Though he served heroically, upon return Holiday was sworn to secrecy about exactly what was his role in the war. The military kept the code talkers’ activities classified until 1968 when they were finally recognized for their crucial role in helping win the war.

Holiday and his Navajo comrades went on to receive many honors, including the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest civilian award granted by the U.S. Congress.

“He did great for us,” Austin said, “and we’re extremely proud of him.”

St. George News senior reporter Mori Kessler contributed to this report.

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Email: jwitham@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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