By: Viki Eagle
Richard Anderson, Jr. took out his original USA 1971 Fender Butterscotch Telecaster guitar at a coffee shop in Gallup, New Mexico, and began to identify the 16 signatures of The Navajo Code Talkers who had signed his guitar over the years.
One by one Anderson started to spell out the letters and match the names to the list of the 300 Navajo Code Talkers.
Most of them were signed from the 5th Division Marine Corps veterans that served at the Battle of Iwo Jima.
13 of the signatures could be identified on the guitar and the other 3 names were lost in the wear and tear of performing over the years.
The first Fender Telecaster Guitar was made in 1950. Anderson says he asked for the signatures of the Code Talkers on a telecaster guitar was to bridge the understanding of music history and the freedom of expression after the war had ended.
But to also connect Native heritage to the beauty and artist expressions through music.
“The Code Talkers protected the freedom for every artist and band in this country to express music the way they want to sing it; with no limits.
Every band and every artist owes a “thank you” to the Code Talkers for that very freedom and for protecting our music.
No one thinks of music history in this way. That is why this Code Talker guitar is such a sentimental instrument. Especially with very few code talkers left.”
“I thought a lot about music history. The greatest musicians played the Telecaster like Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards and Jimmy Page,” said Anderson.
Anderson was only five years old when he met his first Code Talker. His father served in the Vietnam War and was friends with many of the Code Talkers.
Growing up there was a lot of pride in the community for veterans. His parents spoke highly of what they did for this country and because of what they did; the US was able to win the war.
Anderson said the first signature was the hardest one to get. “I asked Keith Little to sign my guitar three times and he said no.
During the movie premiere of the Windtalkers at the Gallup train station, the event planned to unveil the memorial statue dedicated to the Navajo Code Talker.
I decided to ask again. I remember walking towards Keith Little to sign my guitar at the seats and there were two other Navajo Code talkers sitting next to him. Keith Little finally agreed to sign my guitar but under two conditions.
He told me, “You can never sell this guitar and you have to teach the kids how to play the guitar.” The other two code talkers sitting next to him saw him sign it and they also agreed to sign it.
After getting the first signature from Keith, it made it easier asking the other Code Talkers to sign the guitar.
“Throughout the years since 2002, I went to different places and events where the Code Talkers would be at to ask them to sign it. I would explain the conditions and tell them that I would never sell it and I use this guitar to teach the kids how to play.”
Prior to the Code Talker Guitar project, Anderson lived his young adult life in southern California where he attended the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles and experienced the life of a musician in the era of 80s hard rock and Heavy Metal.
Anderson remembers being the only Navajo student attending the school. After his tech training, with his group, ‘The Chucki Begay Family Band,’ he took the Code Talker guitar to every state in the United States and to a lot of reservations and music festivals to represent the Navajo Nation.
When he came back home from performing, his band started a music camp on Navajo Nation to teach the youth to play instruments.
“At one point we had 175 youths sign up for our music camp. The students start by learning the history and lessons from the Code Talker guitar. Then they learn how to play their instruments from guitar, bass, keyboard or drums. I hope the future of this guitar will stay in Navajo Nation amongst the Four Sacred Mountains. Where it can be displayed in a museum to make sure it will never be sold and the lessons learned from this history will carry out to the next generation.”
“I will never sell it,” said Anderson. “I was offered $50,000 dollars for it and I said no.”
The identified Code Talker signatures:
Don Akee, Samuel H. Begay, Roy Hawthorne, Samuel T. Holiday, Keith M. Little, George Alfred Moss, Alfred James Peaches, Richard Plummer (Korean War Code Talker), Albert Smith, Samuel Tso, Samuel Sr. Tsosie, Joe Sr. Vandever, Robert Walley, (two unknown due to wear and tear).
Viki Eagle is from the Sicangu Lakota Nation from Denver, Colorado. She is biracial Japanese/Lakota. She is currently a Ph.D. student on Tongva land at UCLA in Sociocultural Anthropology. Follow her on social media @RealLifeIndian. This article appeared on Indian Country Today.