Under the Eagle: Samuel Holiday, Navajo Code Talker [NOOK Book]


Samuel Holiday was one of a small group of Navajo men enlisted by the Marine Corps during World War II to use their native language to transmit secret communications on the battlefield. Based on extensive interviews with Robert S. McPherson, Under the Eagle is Holiday’s vivid account of his own story. It is the only book-length oral history of a Navajo code talker in which the narrator relates his experiences in his own voice and words.

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Under the Eagle: Samuel Holiday, Navajo Code Talker

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Samuel Holiday was one of a small group of Navajo men enlisted by the Marine Corps during World War II to use their native language to transmit secret communications on the battlefield. Based on extensive interviews with Robert S. McPherson, Under the Eagle is Holiday’s vivid account of his own story. It is the only book-length oral history of a Navajo code talker in which the narrator relates his experiences in his own voice and words.

Under the Eagle carries the reader from Holiday’s childhood years in rural Monument Valley, Utah, into the world of the United States’s Pacific campaign against Japan—to such places as Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima. Central to Holiday’s story is his Navajo worldview, which shapes how he views his upbringing in Utah, his time at an Indian boarding school, and his experiences during World War II. Holiday’s story, coupled with historical and cultural commentary by McPherson, shows how traditional Navajo practices gave strength and healing to soldiers facing danger and hardship and to veterans during their difficult readjustment to life after the war.

The Navajo code talkers have become famous in recent years through books and movies that have dramatized their remarkable story. Their wartime achievements are also a source of national pride for the Navajos. And yet, as McPherson explains, Holiday’s own experience was “as much mental and spiritual as it was physical.” This decorated marine served “under the eagle” not only as a soldier but also as a Navajo man deeply aware of his cultural obligations.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Philip Johnston, a former Marine sergeant raised on a Navajo reservation, suggested the development of a communications code using Navajo language and tribe members as “code talkers.” Soon, the Marines had recruited the “Twenty-Nine,” the first group to develop and use this code. Holiday was a member of this group, and his children enlisted historian McPherson (A Navajo Legacy) to assemble this oral history of Holiday’s life and his work as a code talker. A cracking good storyteller, Holiday regales us with tales of his childhood tending sheep in Monument Valley, Utah; his challenging years in boarding school; and his enlistment in the Marines. He follows with his harrowing experiences across South Pacific combat arenas, his difficult return to his community, and his marriage to a woman named Lupita. Holiday frames his journey with elements from the Navajo creation story, in which a young warrior is protected by the eagle, and McPherson sandwiches Holiday’s accounts between an excerpt from that story and a commentary that provides context for Holiday’s words. Although in 1982 President Reagan declared August 14 as National Navajo Code Talkers Day, the group of men brought to life by Holiday’s stories has been mostly forgotten. 30 b&w illus. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Holiday was one of 420 Navajos who served in the Marine Corps during World War II as part of a secret communications program that remained classified for many years after. Using a secret code developed from the Navajo language, these code talkers were employed to communicate quickly yet safely on the battlefield. Holiday is not the first code talker to record his story (e.g., see Chester Nez's Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII), but his oral history, as recorded by McPherson (history, Utah State Univ.; coauthor with Holiday, A Navajo Legacy: The Life and Teachings of John Holiday) is not simply a war memoir but an exploration of his Navajo worldview and how that perspective influenced him during and after the war. In each chapter, Holiday includes a brief portion of the larger Navajo history and their origin stories. McPherson provides additional commentary to place Holiday's story in further context. VERDICT A rather untraditional but very enlightening autobiography. Rich in details of Navajo tradition and spirituality, this book will appeal to those interested in Native American culture as well as those interested in World War II and the code talker program.—Michael C. Miller, Austin P.L. & Austin History Ctr., TX
Kirkus Reviews
A combination of memoir and ethnography study examining an unusual, inspiring aspect of the World War II Pacific campaign. Holiday is one of the last living Navajo "code talkers," a group of Native American Marines recruited to develop an unbreakable code derived from their unique tribal language. As co-author McPherson (History/Utah State Univ., Blanding; Navajo Land, Navajo Culture: The Utah Experience in the Twentieth Century, 2002, etc.) observes, "The Navajo code talker experience was as much mental and spiritual as it was physical [due to]…the emphasis Navajo culture placed on religion." One strength of their collaboration is a clear portrait of the daily challenges faced by the Code Talkers in both training and battle. Holiday's engaging musings on his hardscrabble (yet tradition-inflected) childhood and the young Navajo males' surreal entry into war alternate with McPherson's explications of Native American history, symbolism and ritual. The scholar argues that Holiday's experiences connected these ancient cultural markers to the Marines' intense "island hopping" campaign against the Japanese. Holiday seems serene in recalling participation in brutal battles at Saipan and Iwo Jima, though he notes that the Code Talkers were frequently at risk of being mistaken for the Japanese foe. Following the war, he overcame "nightmares of the enemy standing over me smiling" by having an "Enemy Way" ceremony performed for him. Still, the Code Talkers found postwar life challenging, having been sworn to secrecy. Since each chapter contains an overview of relevant Navajo symbolism, followed by part of Holiday's recollection of his improbable life story and McPherson's lengthy interpretation of the young soldier's experiences, the overall narrative feels rather unwieldy. However, many readers will find the fusion of military and cultural histories enjoyable and fascinating. The combination of Holiday's recollections and McPherson's academic expertise creates a valuable addition to the canon of specific WWII narratives.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806151038
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 8/13/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 280
  • Sales rank: 263,503
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Samuel Holiday, born in 1924, now lives in Kayenta, Arizona, at the southern end of Utah’s Monument Valley. He is one of the few surviving Navajo code talkers.

Robert S. McPherson is Professor of History at Utah State University, Blanding. He is the author of A Navajo Legacy: The Life and Teachings of John Holiday; Navajo Land, Navajo Culture: The Utah Experience in the Twentieth Century; and The Journey of Navajo Oshley: An Autobiography and Life History.

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