Monday, November 11, 2013

Biography: Under the Eagle by Samuel Holiday and Robert S. McPherson

Former soldier Samuel Holiday and history professor Robert S. McPherson get together to tell Holiday’s amazing story in Under the Eagle: Samuel Holiday Navajo Code Talker (University of Oklahoma Press).

Moving from Holiday’s childhood in rural Utah to the depths of the United States’ campaign in the Pacific during World War II when Navajo men were enlisted so the Marine Corps could use their native language for secret communication on the front.

Under the Eagle is deeply compelling. From the majesty of Monument Valley and the enchantment of beliefs very different from those likely to read the book, to the horrors of the Pacific theatre and back to an awkward readjustment in a world in which nothing is altered yet everything seems strangely changed.

Though there has been some discussion about code talkers in recent years, Under the Eagle touches on aspects that others haven’t brought us. The authors incorporate not only Holiday’s own life and background, but elements of Navajo beliefs and culture. This comes from Holiday’s own thoughts that the journeys he made as a soldier were “as much mental and spiritual as … physical.”

Though movies and books have gone before, Under the Eagle provides the only account of a code talker from the code talker’s own perspective. The view from that angle is riveting. ◊

Jones Atwater is a contributing editor to January Magazine.

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