They went to war, they did extraordinary things. They saved the world then they came home and lived ordinary lives. They became husbands and fathers and grandfathers.

The members of this great generation, the World War II generation, are leaving us quickly now. The Navajo Nation announced that George B. Willie Sr, of Leupp, died on Tuesday. He was 92.

We don’t know much about Willie. But we know enough. We know that like many of his generation he had to grow up quickly. We know he enlisted in the Marines when he was just 17 years old, serving with the Second Marine Division, 10th Battalion, from 1943 until 1946.

We know that he served as a Navajo Code Talker, part of a secret project that allowed American troops to freely communicate on their battlefield radios with no fear that Japanese cryptographers could break the code.

We know that he served in the Battle of Okinawa, relaying strategic information in a code derived from his native language while all around one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific raged.

We know that he saved lives then came home under orders not to talk of it. The Code Talkers were a national secret until 1968.

But then, many of the men of that generation never talked much about what they did, what they endured. We knew them as fathers, not really understanding until we were much older that they were also soldiers. That we had heroes living among us.

George B. Willie Sr. married Emma and went on to have 10 children and several grandchildren, according to the Navajo Nation.

This week, we commemorate the 76th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and I wonder how much longer any of those who lived it will still be with us. Their numbers are dwindling quickly now which makes it all the more important that we, their children and grandchildren, make sure their stories never die.

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