One of the few remaining Navajo Code Talkers who used their native language to confound the Japanese in World War II has died.

Joe Vandever Sr. died of health complications Friday in Haystack, New Mexico, according to his family. He was 96.

Tribal leaders called Vandever a "great warrior" and a "compassionate family man" and asked Navajos to keep his spirit and his family in their prayers.

Vandever was among hundreds of Navajos who served in the Marine Corps, transmitting messages using a code based on the Navajo language. The code developed by an original group of 29 Navajos was never broken.

Vandever's death leaves less than a handful of Navajo Code Talkers still alive.

Vandever enlisted in the Marines in Santa Fe in March 1943 and was honorably discharged in January 1946. He worked multiple jobs after the war, including for an oil company and as a mining prospector, and stressed the importance of the Navajo language. He also was a medicine man.

Vandever is survived by a sister, several children and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He had one great-great-grandchild.

Vandever’s wife of 73 years, Bessie, died in September 2019.

He will be buried at the Santa Fe National Cemetery. Arrangements are pending.

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