A member of an elite group of Marines who developed a code based on their native language during World War II has died.
Although Lloyd Oliver was not an outspoken man during his life, he was very proud to have used his Navajo language as a secret weapon that helped win the war.
He rarely brought up his time as a Code Talker, but his eyes gleamed when holding a picture of himself in his uniform. He kept a Marine cap and a U.S. flag displayed on his bedroom walls in the home he shared with his wife on the Yavapai Apache Reservation, the Associated Press reports.
Lloyd Oliver's death this week means that only one of the original 29 Navajo "Code Talkers" survives -- Chester Nez of Albuquerque, N.M.
Oliver was 88 years old when he died at a hospice center in Arizona where he'd spent the past three weeks.
Oliver had signed up for the Marine Corps in 1942 and discharged as a corporal three years later. Oliver was an original member of the Code Talkers, an elite squad who played a role in every assault the Marines conducted in the Pacific during World War II.
The Code Talkers were instructed not to discuss their roles and felt compelled to honor those orders even after the code was declassified in 1968. Oliver's military records make just a single mention of "code talker." He otherwise was listed as having "communication duty," or listed as "communication personnel." His record also focuses on the financial support he provided for his siblings.
"It's very heartbreaking to know that we are losing our Navajo Code Talkers, and especially one of the original 29 whose stories would be tremendously valuable," said Yvonne Murphy, secretary of the Navajo Code Talkers Foundation.
Hundreds of Navajos followed in the footsteps of Oliver and the other original Code Talkers, sending thousands of messages without error on Japanese troop movements, battlefield tactics and other communications critical to the war's ultimate outcome.
Navajo President Ben Shelly called Oliver a "national treasure" and ordered flags lowered across the reservation in his honor.