Today’s post comes from Cody White, an archivist at the National Archives at Denver.
“One warm afternoon Lloyd was playing a fast moving game of basketball out on the campus. He loves basketball and is a very good player. At the completion of the game Lloyd came into Miss Jordan’s classroom, all hot and flushed and with a grin said, ‘They almost didn’t beat us!”’
Lloyd Oliver’s student record from the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Shiprock Agricultural High School gushes over his accomplishments—A’s in history, English, and first aid—and praises his perfectionism and persistence. The last entry in his anecdotal record, highlighting his optimism and cited above, dates to June 1942, one month into Oliver’s U.S. Marine Corps training. Oliver would soon be needing all those attributes and more on the battlefields of the Pacific.
In addition to November marking both National Native American Heritage Month and Veteran’s Day, the National Museum of the American Indian chose this month to dedicate the National Native American Veterans Memorial, which will honor the many men and women who answered our nation’s call for service.
In my role here at the National Archives, I’ve enjoyed highlighting such stories—from scout Hairy Moccasin, who was sent away before an ill-fated cavalry charge in June 1876, to Tony Dedman, Army Airborne, who lost his life on a no-name hill in the Republic of Vietnam in May 1966. Today, I’d like to highlight one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers of the U.S. Marine Corps: Lloyd Oliver.
Lloyd Oliver was born in 1923 on the Navajo Nation to Howard and Olive “Ollie” Oliver. He attended Fruitland Day School before enrolling in the boarding school at Shiprock, New Mexico.
What happened nationwide following the attack on Pearl Harbor also happened in Shiprock—the “exceptionally gifted boy” Lloyd Oliver dropped his schooling and enlisted. “When or if he should come back . . .” wrote his teacher, hoping he would continue his education but understanding the uncertainty of war. After training in California, Oliver was sent to the Pacific, where over the next three years he helped defeat the Empire of Japan.
While names are not listed, Oliver should be present in this photograph. “First 29 Navajo U.S. Marine Corps Code-Talker Recruits being Sworn in at Fort Wingate, NM.” (National Archives Identifier 295175) Oliver is seen in the front row, first from right. “These New Mexican Indians, serving with the veteran First Marine Division, played an important part in maintaining communications during the Peleliu campaign….” (National Archives Identifier 100385916) “Photograph of Navajo Indian Code Talkers Peter Nahaidinae, Joseph P. Gatewood, and Corporal Lloyd Oliver.” (National Archives Identifier 100378124) “Corporal Lloyd Oliver, a Full-Blooded Navajo Indian, Operates a Field Radio While Attached to a Marine Artillery Regiment in the South Pacific.” It is noted that “Corporal Oliver also is a sniper and a highly regarded scout.” (National Archives Identifier 100378076)
Oliver survived the war and returned home in 1945. Some of his interests and talents were noted in his school record, one of which was silversmithing, and according to many biographies he turned to that as a career.
Unfortunately for many of the Navajo Code Talkers, their contribution to the war effort remained a secret too long, and they were not recognized in their lifetimes. That was not the case for Oliver, who visited the U.S. Capitol in 2001 to receive the Congressional Gold Medal from President Bush himself.
According to his Navajo Times obituary, Lloyd Oliver passed away on March 16, 2011. But his story, and that of so many fellow veterans, can still be found in the holdings of the National Archives.