MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And, unfortunately, we have some sad news to share here. George Smith, one of the famed Navajo Code Talkers, died on Tuesday at the age of 90. Smith enlisted in the Marines in 1943 and joined the elite unit of Code Talkers. He served in the Pacific theatre, eventually achieving the rank of corporal. The Code Talkers became military legends after the U.S. military began using the Navajo language to transmit tactical information during World War II. The code, which was never broken, is credited with helping the U.S. win the war.
Some 400 Navajo Americans served as Code Talkers and just a few survive today. The program remained secret for many years, however, so Code Talkers and those who knew about them could not talk about their crucial role in the war until 1968.
The Code Talkers were honored at the Capitol in Washington by President George W. Bush in July of 2001. At the ceremony, President Bush quoted Smith's brother Albert, who was also a Code Talker.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Late in his life, Albert Smith explained the code words for America was Our Mother. Our Mother stood for freedom, our religion, our ways of life and that's why we went in.
MARTIN: Navajo Code Talker George Smith died this week in New Mexico. His survivors include his brother and fellow Code Talker Albert, 20 grandchildren and more than 31 great-grandchildren. He was 90 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.