Dan Akee, one of the last Navajo Code Talkers, wants to go home for Christmas. The house that he built in the 1960s has been vacant and uninhabitable for years. When Red Feather Development Group of Flagstaff learned of the war hero’s wish, they set out to do something about it.
“All I want to do before I die is live in the house I built with my own hands 60 years ago,” Dan Akee, 94, said to his son Danny, one of his caretakers.
“When my father was in the hospital, he wasn’t praying for his health, he was praying for the money to fix the house. Now that Red Feather has gotten involved, we know my dad’s dream of living in his house is going to come true for Christmas,” said Danny Akee.
Red Feather Development Group has a long history of working with Native Americans on similar housing issues. They have rallied volunteers to work on the Akee home that is located in Tuba City and started a crowd-funding campaign to raise the needed money. The timeline is an aggressive one, but the renovation experts have outlined a multi-stage construction plan to meet that target. In less than 10 days, the group raised the $15,000 needed to fund Phase I of the plan before Thanksgiving.
“We are approaching the renovation in four phases,” explained Joe Seidenberg, program manager for Red Feather. “We are starting with the most critical items first, like the roof, windows and doors and working our way up from there.” To complete all four phases, $55,000 additional funds are needed through their “Going Home” crowd-funding campaign. Red Feather plans a bathroom and kitchen renovation that will allow Dan Akee full handicap access along with a wheelchair access ramp to the house. Currently, Dan and his wife, Margaret, live in a manufactured mobile home adjacent to their original family residence.
“I got this land, … I want to build my house here, so I started just by myself,” said the retired Marine Sergeant Major Code Talker in an exclusive interview with Flagstaff Business News. “I went so far. Two of my relatives came by, ‘Can we help you?’ ‘Yes.’ They helped me build up right to the roof; from there, I did my own with my boys, my little ones. I am glad for what you have planned for me. …it was cold in the winter; that’s why I moved here. But I want to move back to my house.”
“But it takes money,” Dan Akee continued. “This is going to be nice. So I am very happy about rebuilding. I want to move back. I don’t have no money, …so it would be nice if you spent your money. I am very happy about rebuilding. I wanted to move back for a long time, but I don’t have no money. That’s my story.” Dan Akee, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his military service in WWII, saw fierce battle in the Pacific including the Marshall Islands, Saipan, Tinan and two campaigns of Iwo Jima. He memorized over 555 Navajo words in a highly classified system of Code Talk, which is credited as helping win the Battle at Iwo Jima. During the war, the Navajo Code Talk was never broken.
“I am very happy that all Navajos should be very proud of us because their language has been used,” said the 94- year-old. “The whole United States [was] very proud of us. It took 25 years ‘til it was released – that we could start talking about the Code Talkers. I am very happy a lot of people respect me.”
“When we heard about Navajo Code Talker Dan Akee, we knew we had to do something quick,” Red Feather Development Group Executive Director Mark Hall said. They rallied volunteer students from the local high school and others to help with cleanup and construction of the uninhabitable structure. Northern Arizona businesses that continue to donate services, materials and labor include:
- Arizona Public Service (APS)
- Home Depot
- Western Agency of Navajo Veterans Affairs
- Nizhoni Ranch Gallery
- Heichal Baoranim Flagstaff’s Temple in the Pines (Rabbi Mindie Snyder)
- Bleekers Boxes
- Western Technologies Inc.
- Draper Glass Company
- Jeremy Stinek, Video Editor
- Terry Lewis, Electrical
- Thomas Deehin, Welding & Carpentry
- Martin Hurlson, Drywall
- Rickey Butler, Carpentry
- Allen Preston Carpentry
- Focal Point Eyewear, Inc. – Samantha Max
- Saraphina Adson, Navajo Hopi Honor Riders
- Nolan Dempsey, Backhoe Operator
“Our goal is to bring local and state community organizations together to complete the renovation of the house with a new roof, windows, doors and wheel chair access by Christmas Day 2015,” said Red Feather’s Norena Gutierrez, director of development & communications. Since 1995, the non-profit organization has partnered with Native Americans to improve quality of shelter through sustainable programs and services such as educational outreach, the Native Home Repair Network and community development projects.
Three Ways to Give to the Dan Akee Going Home Project:
- Go to the Red Feather Development Group website and donate directly at https://www.redfeather.org.
- Go to Indigogo and contribute to the Dan Akee Going Home crowd funder: https://www.generosity.com/fundraisers/dan-akee-navajo-code-talker-going-home-project.
- Call Red Feather Development Group in Flagstaff at 928-440-5119 and let them know what in-kind donation you would like to make or if you have a volunteer organization that can provide renovation labor.
Red Feather Development Group, a non-profit organization
2501 N. 4th Street, Suite 17, Flagstaff, AZ 86004
By Stacey Wittig