Navajo Code Talker dies at 96; less than a handful remain

Navajo Code Talker dies at 96; less than a handful remain
Drake University quarterback Ira Vandever, left, sits with his grandfather, Joe Vandever, Aug. 4, 2002, in St. Louis, Mo. As a youngster Ira Vandever sat wide-eyed and hung on every word as his grandfather, who was a code talker, recounted his days with the U.S. Marines in the Pacific during World War II. (Source: AP Photo/Diane L. Wilson/AP)

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) - One of the few remaining Navajo Code Talkers who used their native language to confound the Japanese in World War II has died.

The family of Joe Vandever Sr. says he died Friday of health complications in Haystack, New Mexico. He was 96.

Tribal leaders called him a great warrior and a compassionate family man.

He was among hundreds of Navajos who served in the U.S. Marine Corps transmitting messages using a code based on the Navajo language. It was never broken.

His death leaves less than a handful of Navajo Code Talkers still alive.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.