Frank Chee Willeto

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Frank Chee Willeto
4th Vice President of the Navajo Nation
In office
August 1998[1] – January 12, 1999
President Milton Bluehouse, Sr.
Preceded by Milton Bluehouse, Sr.
Succeeded by Taylor McKenzie
Personal details
Born (1925-06-06)June 6, 1925
Crownpoint, New Mexico
Died June 23, 2012(2012-06-23) (aged 87)
Pueblo Pintado, New Mexico
Nationality  Navajo Nation and

Frank Chee Willeto (June 6, 1925 – June 23, 2012) was an American politician and Navajo code talker during World War II.[1][2] Willeto served as the Vice President of the Navajo Nation under President Milton Bluehouse, Sr. from his appointment in August 1998 until January 1999, when the Begaye administration took office.[1]

Early life[edit]

Willeto was born in Crownpoint, New Mexico, on June 6, 1925.[1] According to the Navajo Times, Willeto was "Bit'ahnii (Folded Arms Clan), born for Tódích'íi'nii (Bitter Water Clan). His chei [mother's grandfather] was Ta'neeszahnii (Tangle Clan) and his nálí (paternal family) was Naakai dine'é (Mexican People Clan)."[2]

Code talker[edit]

He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in January 1944 during World War II.[3] Willeto joined the 6th Marine Division, serving in the Pacific Theater in Saipan and Okinawa as a Navajo code talker.[3] The code talkers’ role in the war was not disclosed until 1968, when documents on the talkers were declassified.[1] Willeto and other surviving Navajo code talkers were awarded the Congressional Silver Medal in 2001.[1][3]


He returned to the Navajo Nation following the end of World War II. He was employed in the roads department of the Bureau of Indian Affairs from 1946 until 1974.[1] Willeto then joined the United States Department of Education.[4]

Willeto was elected to the Navajo Nation Council in 1974.[4] He remained on the Council until 1986, when he was elected as the president of the Pueblo Pintado Chapter.[4] Willeto also served as a judge on the former Navajo Supreme Judicial Council, a precursor to the present-day Supreme Court of the Navajo Nation.[1][4]

On July 23, 1998, Navajo Nation President Thomas Atcitty was removed from office by the Navajo Nation Council for ethics violations.[5] Atcitty was succeeded by Milton Bluehouse, Sr., Atcitty's vice president, as interim president one day later.[1] Bluehouse appointed Willeto as Vice President of the Navajo Nation in August 1998.[1][3] Together, Bluehouse and Willeto ran as running mates for a full, four-year term in the November 1998 presidential election.[6] Kelsey Begaye won the general election and was inaugurated on January 12, 1999. Willeto remained Vice President within the Bluehouse administration until Begaye took office.[3]

Later life[edit]

He remained active in public life. Willeto was a proponent of the new Tsé Yí Gai High School in Pueblo Pintado and the construction of a new bridge between the high school and Navajo Route 9.[2]

Willeto was a frequent visitor to the eastern United States, especially Washington, D.C. In 2008, Willeto gave the blessing to mark the start of construction on the USS New Mexico (SSN-779) nuclear submarine in Newport News, Virginia.[2] He was also invited to the White House to witness the signing of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 by U.S. President Barack Obama.[2] Most recently, Willeto appeared as a panelist for the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs' "The Way of the Warrior: Native Americans' Commitment to Country, Community, and Communication" panel on November 16, 2011, as part of National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.[4]

Willeto died at his home in Pueblo Pintado, New Mexico, on June 23, 2012, at the age of 87.[1][2][3] New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez ordered flags to be flown at half-mast in Willeto's honor.[3] Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly also offered all Navajo flags to be flown at half staff from June 25 until June 28.[4] His funeral was held at the Tse Yi Gai High School in Pueblo Pintado.[4] Willeto was buried at Santa Fe National Cemetery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 29, 2012, at a ceremony attended by 150 people, including Governor Martinez.[3]


Further reading[edit]

Frank Willeto

Code Talkers

  • Aaseng, Nathan. Navajo Code Talkers: America’s Secret Weapon in World War II. New York: Walker & Company, 1992.
  • Durrett, Deanne. Unsung Heroes of World War II: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers. Library of American Indian History, Facts on File, Inc., 1998.
  • McClain, Salley. Navajo Weapon: The Navajo Code Talkers. Tucson, Arizona: Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2001.

External links[edit]