Courtesy Mihio Manus
In honor of Dan Akee, his birthday and Veterans Day, volunteers from a variety of organizations are stepping up to help renovate the house.

A Code Talker’s Birthday Wish This Veterans’ Day

Alysa Landry

Dan Akee raised 12 children in a small brick house he built from scratch in Tuba City, Arizona.

The house, erected in the 1950s in a small community near the western border of the Navajo Nation, has sat unoccupied for nearly a decade since the roof began leaking and Akee and his wife, Margaret, moved into a double-wide trailer next door. But Akee’s thoughts have never wandered far from the house or the memories made within its walls.

“He sits outside under the tree and prays to God, saying he wants to live in his house again before he gets any older,” said Akee’s youngest daughter, Marmelita Akee, who acts as a caretaker for her father. “He wants to sit in front of the fireplace like before, to have my mom back in there. There are a lot of memories in that house.”

Akee, who turns 94 today, is one of only 12 surviving Navajo Code Talkers. Along with 429 other young Navajo men, Akee made up the elite group of U.S. Marines who, during World War II, helped create a code based on the Navajo language. The code proved unbreakable, confounding the enemy and changing the course of history.

Akee, named “Red Moccasins,” was born in 1922 in the Navajo community of Coalmine Canyon. He started school at age 6, but withdrew after contracting tuberculosis. While recuperating in a convalescent home, he learned on his own, eventually reaching a 10th-grade proficiency.

In 1943, at age 21, Akee enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps. He trained as a Code Talker at Camp Pendleton, California, and was detailed to the 4th Marine Division. Between 1943 and 1945, he memorized more than 555 code words and transmitted them during battle in Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian and finally Iwo Jima.

Like the other Code Talkers, Akee couldn’t talk about his military service until after the federal government formally declassified the mission in 1968. But even then, his stories about battle were vague and distant, Marmelita said.

“He is a hero, my dad,” she said.

In honor of Akee, his birthday and Veterans Day, volunteers from a variety of organizations are stepping up to help renovate the house.

The goal is to move Akee back into his house by Christmas, said Mark Hall, executive director of Red Feather Development Group, a nonprofit organization that works with tribes, business partners and corporate sponsors to provide homes for Native Americans. Red Feather has launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise the $70,000 needed for a new roof, windows, doors, basic plumbing and electrical work.

“We went out and visited Akee and found out that this house that he had built after the war for himself and his wife to raise their family had deteriorated,” Hall said. “We also saw that the temporary housing he was in had also fallen into disrepair.”

Red Feather began looking for assistance to replace the house, but found waiting lists as long as 12 months, Hall said. Without anyone to help with finances, Red Feather decided to ask the public.

Donations topping $1,000 came in during the first 24 hours, Hall said. Other individuals have offered free materials or labor.

“There really isn’t a good solution for people in this situation,” he said. “It’s overwhelming the people who are willing to help this man.”

A crew broke ground on the renovation November 7. Volunteers, including Navajo President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez, began hauling furniture, fixtures and debris from the old house and knocking out window frames to make way for replacements. Renovation plans also call for a kitchen remodel, upgrades to the bathroom, a wheelchair ramp and a new coat of paint.

Today, volunteers plan to surprise Akee with a party, his daughter said. She hopes to see her dad resettled in the house he built himself, with his wife of 60 years by his side, along with his nine surviving children and 112 grandchildren.

“All he wanted to do before he dies is live in that house,” said Marmelita, who has six of her own children. “I’m hoping that he’ll sit in there and talk about the war. That he’ll talk to his grandchildren so they’ll know what he did.”

To donate, visit here or call Red Feather Development Group at (928) 440-5119 with in-kind donations or volunteer labor.

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tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
Dan Akee, thank you as always for your service to the United States, our Tribal Nation, tribal peoples, and community. You are a shining example of what a tribal male is about to not just yourself but to your family, relatives, and friends and admirers. I am every reminded of my nahlee's and cheii's and miss them. It is so sad however, by 'today's' Indigenous Activist Radical0-Haters, your military service IS NOT to be admired nor celebrated nor should be acknowledged because your efforts benefited the colonist European powers that exist. But like the great majority of enrolled-registered tribal members, WE (all) just ignore the haters and continue on with our lives considering we have lived this LONG without them. We will continue and drudge this road of hapiness despite what the naysayers throw. God Bless You and God Love America - land of the opportunity!