Wilfred Billey, 90, a Navajo Code Talker whose words are inscribed on congressional medals given to his group, died Thursday in New Mexico after a short illness, said his daughter, Barbara.
He was one of hundreds of Navajo Code Talkers who stumped the Japanese during World War II by relaying messages in their native language.
But Barbara Billey said her father never considered himself a hero. "Whenever he talked about the military during that time, he always told people that heroes were the ones he left behind, that he was not a hero," she said. "That everybody pitched in, including the people in the states, the people in the military."
After the war, Mr. Billey worked with New Mexico's congressional delegation to come up with the words appearing along the bottom of the medals: "Dine Bizaad Yee Atah Naayee' Yik'eh Deesdlii" or "The Navajo language was used to defeat the enemy," his family said.
Mr. Billey and others stepped in when a former Code Talker, David Tsosie, was taken off the list of honorees in 2001 because his discharge papers did not note he was part of the group. They notified government officials and provided documentation.
When former Sen. Jeff Bingaman called Tsosie at a nursing home to tell him he would receive the belated medal, Mr. Billey was there. "Both of them just about jumped out of their seats with joy," said James Preminger, who covered the story for the Farmington Daily Times. - AP