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Friday, January 30, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Navajo Who Helped Win War Dies At 90 -- Carl Gorman Was One Of `Code Talkers'

AP

GALLUP, N.M. - Navajo artist, teacher and "Code Talker" Carl Gorman, whose encrypted use of his native language helped defeat Japan during World War II, died yesterday of cancer. He was 90.

Mr. Gorman died at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital shortly after midnight, hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Dowling said.

He was mourned yesterday throughout the Navajo Nation and the art world.

"Here is a man who has contributed tremendously to the country - the United States - and to the Navajo Nation, his people," Navajo President Albert Hale said in Albuquerque. "We are very proud he has served in the armed forces and the Code Talkers."

Mr. Gorman, during 1982 festivities honoring the Code Talkers, said he and 28 other Navajos learned of their secret mission after completing boot camp in 1942.

"We never realized they were going to use our language as a code," he said.

"Some of our comrades couldn't figure us out. . . . Some of us looked like Japanese, and when they saw us talking into the equipment, they thought we were talking Japanese.

"And we were doing secret work, so we couldn't even tell our buddies what we were doing."

The recruits, ranging in age from 15 to 35, were inducted into the Marine Corps on May 4, 1942. Mr. Gorman was in his 30s. Eventually, there were 200 Code Talkers.

The Japanese never cracked the Navajo language, which bears no relationship to any other language in the world.

And there was even a code within the language: The Code Talkers used bird names to identify aircraft, fish for ships. The original code included more than 200 terms and evolved to more than 600.

"Many people ask me why I fought for my country when the government has treated us pretty bad," Mr. Gorman said during the 1995 unveiling of a Code Talker monument in Flagstaff, Ariz.

"But before the white man came to this country, this whole land was Indian country and we still think it's our land, so we fight for it. I was very proud to serve my country."

The monument was sculpted by his son, R.C. Gorman, who visited his father in the hospital Sunday, said Virginia Dooley, director of R.C. Gorman's Navajo Gallery in Taos.

After the war, Carl Gorman became known for his art and his lectures around the country about the Navajos.

In the 1970s he taught art history and Native-American history at the University of California-Davis, where the C.N. Gorman Museum was dedicated in 1973.

University spokeswoman Lisa Klionsky said the museum is planning a tribute.

Born in 1907 in Chinle, Ariz., the son of a merchant-rancher, Mr. Gorman ran away from school at the age of 10, according to his biography, "Power of a Navajo - Carl Gorman: The Man and His Life" by Henry and Georgia Greenberg.

Mr. Gorman was treated harshly in school because he wouldn't give up the Navajo language, the book recalled.

Besides his son, Mr. Gorman's survivors include his wife, Mary; daughters Zonnie Gorman of Gallup and Donna Scott of Chinle, Ariz.; and three grandchildren.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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