Every August since 2006, Brenda McNulty has been taking a group of Young Marines to Window Rock, Ariz., to participate in Navajo Code Talkers Day.
McNulty, who is the Battalion Commander overseeing Young Marines units in Highlands Ranch, Douglas County, Aurora, Monument, as well as a unit in Kansas, met her first four World War II code talkers earlier that year when she was on a trip to Iwo Jima with some of the local Young Marines, including one of her sons.
After striking up a friendship with the oft-unheralded veterans, the Young Marines were invited down to Arizona later that August to participate in the Aug. 14 annual celebration, becoming the only non-Navajos to partake in the parade.
Since that year, the trip has become a rite of summer for McNulty, who said she would rather give up Christmas or her birthday than forego spending Navajo Code Talkers Day with some of the youngest and oldest service-minded Americans around.
What began as a two-day adventure with a small group of Young Marines seven years ago has since morphed into a three-day experience for 101 kids between the ages of 8 and 18 who come from all over the country to help clean up Window Rock Navajo Tribal Park, set up flags and march in the parade, escort the surviving code talkers around, present gifts to the Navajo family members and listen to old war stories.
“It’s a chance to immerse the kids into their culture,” McNulty said. “In my opinion everyone needs to know about this day and learn about what the code talkers did. Surprisingly a lot of people don’t know the history of how these brave Navajos were able to help save American lives in World War II.
“We want to carry on their legacy. Most history books don’t even mention them, and because it remained a secret for so long, a lot of the story got lost while it was a secret. There are so many amazing stories and they are willing to share them all.”
Of the less than 30 Navajo Code Talkers that are still alive today, 24 of them were present at this year’s celebration, and for the Young Marines who went it was an eye-opening and life-changing experience getting to spend time with them.
“The reason I enjoyed this weekend was seeing the smiles on the Navajo Code Talkers faces and letting them know how much they are still appreciated,” said Highlands Ranch Young Marine Xander Tamblyn, 9. “The best part for me was getting to do it now, not knowing how long the opportunity will be around.”
Douglas County Young Marine Carson Hague, a seventh-grader at Ave Maria Catholic School in Parker, said hearing the stories was likely a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“I have two grandfather who served in World War II so I have always been interested in World War II history and accounts that have happened,” he said.
“It’s rare to meet people who have had such an impact on our lives,” McNulty added. “These men are more than just World War II heroes. They are dear friends of the Young Marines. The best part for me is seeing how excited they are to see the kids.”