NEW ORLEANS - What makes Sgt. Delshayne John stand out from his
fellow Marines at Marine Corps Support Facility New Orleans isn't
the fact that he rose through the ranks to be meritoriously promoted
to sergeant in less than three years.
Sgt. Delshayne John speaks fluent Navajo, serves as a communications
Marine and credits his decision to serve in the military to his
upbringing on the Navajo reservation in Fort Defiance, Ariz., and
the influence of his grandfather, Jimmie M. Begay. Begay served as a
Navajo code talker during World War II. Photo by USMC Sgt. Ray
Lewis, November 7, 2012
It isn't that he is only on his first tour and already
works directly for a three-star general. It isn't that the
21-year-old, 175 pounds packed into a lean 6-foot-2 inch
frame, is an experienced rodeo rider, basketball and
football player, wrestler and cross country virtuoso.
What makes John different is his Native American
heritage. His two great granduncles or as he refers to them,
grandfathers, Leonard Begay and Jimmie M. Begay, served as
Navajo code talkers during World War II.
speaks fluent Navajo, serves as a communications Marine and
credits his decision to serve in the military to his
upbringing on the Navajo reservation in Fort Defiance,
Ariz., and the influence of one specific grandfather, Jimmie
“My dad left when I was three and he
(Jimmie M. Begay) has always been there for me so he has
been the father figure in my life,” said John.
is always something to do
Traditional Navajo houses
made of wooden poles, tree bark and mud, called hogans, and
trailers sparsely populated the valley overlooked by
mountains. There were no amusement parks or shopping malls,
just families engaged in their daily chores and livestock
roaming the plains.
In one trailer, John, his three
younger brothers and his sister lived with their mother – no
electricity and no running water. His grandfather and
grandmother lived in the next house down the road.
In the absence of John's father, Begay took it upon himself
to groom John into a respectable young man, filled with the
Navajo traditional values and able to take care of his mom
and siblings as the man of the house.
his grandfather as very stern. Granddad's rules: you don't
sleep in, you rise before the sun, you run towards the east
every morning, pray and come back.
“You can't be
lazy,” he said the old veteran used to insist. “There is
always something to do.”
Even after John completed
his chores, sitting back and relaxing in the house wasn't an
option. Begay pushed him to go outside and play with his
siblings or find something productive to do.
trained his grandson to do many things, from fixing cars to
John remembers when he got his first
horse. Several wild horses roamed the reservation. The rule
was whoever caught them, kept them. As John explained it,
the problem was not with catching the horses but taming
them. Begay caught a wild horse and domesticated her, and
when she had a baby, Begay gave the foal to John.
taught me how to do it then he said ‘here's your horse, now
break it,'” John said.
“I just never felt like I
could be bored with him, no matter what we were doing he
always had something to teach me,” he added.
bonded over chores and many of the reservation activities:
hunting, branding cows, feeding the family animals, rodeo,
As John grew older and the responsibility of
taking care of his younger siblings became greater, so did
the stress. He couldn't show any weakness or emotional
vulnerability as the man of the house – not to his younger
brothers and sister – but he knew he could always confide in
“We got pretty good about reading
each other,” said John. “Anytime I needed somebody to talk
to, he was always there for me so he was like my shoulder to
I envied him
In 1942, the Marine
Corps began recruiting and training Navajos for code talking
because they spoke an unwritten language, unintelligible to
anyone except another Navajo. Navajo Marines developed and
memorized codes which, it is believed, the Japanese never
cracked. They became America's answer to the Japanese
interception and decryption of indispensable messages during
World War II.
Begay served in the war as a code
talker and it was his stories about serving in the military
that opened John up to a world outside the reservation and
the Marine Corps.
“What really got me is the bond
that he built with a lot of different people and that he got
to travel,” said John. “I just saw what kind of person it
made him and I envied him and wanted to be like him.”
Begay passed away in 2006. John was still a teenager
coming of age, 15 years old.
His grandfather had
always hinted that he wanted John to join the Marines but
never pushed him, John said. In his last days, Begay finally
admitted to John that he wanted him to join, but he
encouraged him to pursue whatever he was passionate about.
“That just kind of sealed it for me,” John said about
his decision to enlist.
John graduated Navajo Prep
High School in New Mexico in 2009. He left for the Marine
Corps that same year.
The legacy continues ...
Marine Corps recruit training has a reputation of being
physically challenging. John, whose active youth read like
an ironman competition – wrestling, playing basketball,
football, running track, wrangling cows and riding bulls –
was prepared for the physical aspect. It was the emotional
isolation he wrestled with.
“The hardest part was
being away from my family,” he said. “It was the first time
I left the reservation.”
He earned his eagle, globe
and anchor and became a Marine Jan. 19, 2010, at Marine
Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
The newly minted
Marine's first duty station was Marine Forces Reserve
headquarters in New Orleans, where his fellow Marines say
his grandfather would be proud.
“No doubt his
grandfather would be proud of him, very proud,” said Cpl.
Travis Ortega who works with John in the MARFORRES G-6
Communications and Electronics Division, and was with him in
boot camp, Marine Combat Training and communications school.
Pfc. John arrived in 2010 and was placed at the G-6
service desk, the first stop for troubleshooting information
technology systems. He made it his mission to stand out, and
eventually, callers were requesting John by name. He also
worked in several other sections of the G-6, earning a
reputation as the go-to-guy wherever he worked.
you need something done, he is the guy to go to,” said
Ortega. “No matter if he's never heard of it or seen it
before, he'll find a way and figure it out for you.”
When MARFORRES moved its headquarters from New Orleans
proper to Algiers, La., in 2011, John was added to the team
in charge of setting up communication equipment for the new
After consistently proving himself a
valuable asset during his young career, he was selected for
a highly-coveted but demanding position to work directly for
the MARFORRES and MARFORNORTH commander, Lt. Gen. Steven
Hummer, and his staff.
In August 2012, Hurricane
Isaac hit New Orleans and Marines had the option of
voluntarily evacuating. At the same time, Hummer's
MARFORNORTH was tasked with supporting the Republican
National Convention, so the general remained in New Orleans.
John stayed back also – to make sure the general and his
staff had all means available to communicate.
Personnel were shorthanded, the general needed updates,
video teleconferences had to be set up and broken equipment
needed fixing. John tackled the issues by day, and stood
watch outside the general's office at night.
you have generals on deck, nobody is not going to not stand
post,” he said.
For his actions during the hurricane,
John received a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
Those who knew him and worked with him weren't surprised.
“You can always rely on Sgt. John to provide
excellent results,” said Master Sgt. Esteban Garcia, who
supervises John. “He is very reliable and has initiative.”
As far as John's motivations, it's simple: honor his
grandfather and ancestors by being the best Marine he can
“I'm really proud of the legacy that my ancestors
set for me and I just hope that I can amount to a fraction
of what they were,” John said.
For now he sits at his
desk, answering questions for an interview, typing away at
an email, his phone is ringing, and an officer is walking
towards him with a concerned look on his face. Some might
get frustrated or muddle through the demanding scene, but to
John, it's just another day at the office. He remains calm,
answers the phone and addresses the officer, who tells him
that the general's computer needs urgent fixing. Off he runs
to assess the situation.
John, who plans on serving
at least 20 years in the Marines, is calculating his next
move to become a Marine Corps Special Operations Command
critical skills operator or a Marine security guard assigned
to protect embassies around the globe.
It wouldn't be
hard for a Marine like John to do so. His physical fitness
is top-notch and he has earned a reputation which is all his
John says his current repute is because he finds
something positive everyday and puts his best foot forward
even when the situation is not ideal.
Those who know
him say that he is just being John, paying his respects to
his grandfather and the proud historical legacy of the
Navajo code talkers.
By USMC Cpl. Nana Dannsaappiah
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