Originally Published: July 31, 2010 10:05 p.m.
U.S. Marine Corps (retired) Sgt. Allen Dale June, one of the original 29 Navajo code talkers, received the Warrior Medal of Valor on Thursday afternoon at the Bob Stump Veterans Affairs Medical Center's Community Living Center.
The Navajo code talkers devised a coded communication system based on the Navajo language that proved to be unbreakable by the Japanese during World War II, and military commanders credited them with saving thousands of soldiers' lives.
After Ed Albert gently touched June with an eagle feather and blessed him with a smoldering bundle of sweet sage, Larry Kimmel of the Military Order of the Purple Heart and a member of the Miami Tribe of Indiana presented June, who is in his late 80s, with his medal.
"It is an honor and a pleasure to award you the Warrior Medal of Valor for your service to this country and your people. This is just a small token of our appreciation," said U.S. Marine Corps (retired) Sgt. Alfonso Santillan Jr., commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Chapter 608. "We thank you for a job well done."
June bowed his head in appreciation after receiving his medal, and Santillan saluted him.
June said little after the ceremony, but smiled, acknowledged people, signed photos, and spoke privately with his wife of 37 years, Virginia, whom he let do the talking.
June was just 16 years old when his friend, Carl Gorman, told him recruiters were in town, said Virginia.
"The recruiters told them 'Pops' was too young at 16 and that Gorman was too old at 29," Virginia said. "So they got in a truck and drove all night through the mud to Chinle where they met with a recruiter and both of them signed up saying they were 19 years old."
Virginia said her husband told her there was nothing to do on the reservation and he wanted to serve his country.
"Back then, he meant our little reservation and the Navajo Nation, but over time that expanded to the U.S.," Virginia said.
June served on the U.S.S. Mount McKinley getting information from the other 28 code talkers and decoding messages to be sent to Army General Douglas MacArthur or President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Virginia said.
He crossed the equator eight times and went to all the major islands in the Pacific.
"He was in the thick of everything," Virginia said.
Virginia said June hasn't told her much about what he experienced during the war, but has told their son Jonathan June, 35, of Longmont, Colo., a lot about what he saw.
"There are only three of the original code talkers still living," Virginia said. "He's a rare endangered species now."
Santillan said two World War II veterans come twice a week to the VA to visit patients, learned June was there, and told Santillan.
"Virginia spoke to the commander of the American Legion who told her she should call me, and she did," Santillan said.
Santillan said he originally planned on holding the ceremony in June's room, but when word spread around the VA, they moved it to the dining room, which filled up with people to honor him.
Virginia pointed out that her husband's brother, Floyd June, was also a code talker who served in Germany and had received a Congressional Silver Medal for his service.
In 2002, Allen Dale June went to Washington, D.C., where President George H.W. Bush presented him with a Congressional Gold Medal for his service as a code talker.
June took his family with him to the ceremony, but told Virginia he preferred to stay beneath the radar.
"He told me he didn't want to be honored and said, 'I didn't do anything,'" Virginia said.
June has 10 children from his marriages, said Virginia as she explained she is his third wife.
Virginia said she met June at a flu shot clinic and they just clicked.
"I'm 100 percent his world and he's 100 percent of mine. I'm with him as much as I can be," Virginia said. "He's doing well."