I was honored to meet Mr. Thomas Begay, age 91, former U.S. Marine and Hero this evening at a local buffet. What first caught my eye was his red wind breaker with the big logo on back, “Survivor of Iwo Jima Feb 19, 1945”, and a print of the now famous U.S. Marines raising the American Flag on Mount Suribachi. Then I noticed his hat with the golden Marine Emblem on the side.
At first I thought perhaps this was just another old Vet wanting attention. That is until I walked back from the food line. This old Vet wore the huge silver Presidential Medal President George W. Bush presented to the Navajo Code Talkers in 2001, hanging from his neck. The medal is elegantly mounted in what I believe to be a traditional Navajo setting, a true work of art in itself.
Former Marine and Navajo Code Talker, World War II
Some of Mr. Begay’s family were seated with him. I shook Mr. Begays hand and thanked him, telling him I am honored to meet him. Of course, for me that one comment was not enough. I went back and spoke with the second man at the table. The second man at the table told me he is Mr. Begays son. He told me his dad is, Thomas Begay. A young boy is also present who is Mr. Begay’s Grandson.
Mr. Begay told me he he landed on the island of Iwo Jima as a part of the Fifth Marine Division on February 19, 1945. Mr. Begay’s Daughter-in-Law(?) told me about a video coming out on Veterans Day featuring Mr. Begay. Besides being a Navajo Code Talker on Iwo Jima, Mr. Begay’s Son told me his Dad is also in the group picture of several soldiers at the base of the raised American Flag on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima island. The group picture was taken later in the day on Feb 23, 1945 after the re-enactment of the flag raising.
I watched the video of Mr. Begay’s commercial, and was shown where Mr. Begay stood in the group picture under the raised flag. Finally, I thought I had taken enough of their time and went back and sat down, and let them enjoy their dinner in peace.
As we left I stopped to talk one more time. I told the family, it made me sad knowing that the most famous living Hero everyone in the building was likely to meet in their lifetime is sitting amongst them, and no one seems to notice. There were three or four other men in veterans hats, Korea, Viet Nam, and Iraq. No one took notice of Mr. Begay.
I felt shamed for all of us and expressed such to the family. Mr. Begay is a true Hero, perhaps the last of the Navajo Code Talkers still able to be out in public, and nobody notices? This hurt me way down deep.
The battle for Iwo Jima in WWII was especially fierce. I read the Japanese lost almost 19,000 men in the horrible fighting with only 216 men taken prisoner. American losses were 6,821 killed and 19,217 wounded. I have to wonder how many lives were saved by Mr. Begay and other Navajo Code Talker’s efforts over the 35 day battle for Iwo Jima?
I could have ignored an old man wearing a marine corp wind breaker, cap and huge silver medal. I could have decided he was a pompous old man looking for attention. I am glad I did not. In my eyes Mr. Begay is an American Hero who helped save thousands of lives during that ferocious battle.
I shook hands with, and thanked a former soldier, a U.S. Marine, who went to battle with a high bounty on his head. A Navajo Code Talker, who if captured would have suffered days of torture with unimaginable pain and suffering before he would be permitted to die.
To many of us, war is something that happens somewhere else, to other people. To Mr. Begay, I am sure war means something different entirely. Something very personal and frightening.
The commercial with Mr. Begay, retired U.S. Marine will be out Veterans Day 2015. I hope everyone watches Mr. Begay in the video. I hope we all learn from what Mr. Begay has to say, and what the other all the other Vets who I haven’t had the honor of meeting and thanking have to say too.
The commercial will be out for Veterans Day 2015. I hope everyone watches Mr. Begay in the video and appreciates his service to our country.
Mr. Begay’s video for usaa.com
usaa youtube channel: Veterans Day 2015 #ThoseWhoDared | An Unbreakable Code
Remember our Veterans this Veterans Day, both those you know, and those you never met. They sacrificed for us.