Code Talker Samuel Sandoval

‘Heart of a Warrior’

Navajo Code Talker Samuel F. Sandoval will be in the audience for a movie close to his heart. Actually, it’s about his heart, metaphorically speaking. 

“The Heart of a Warrior” is a feature-length documentary about Sandoval, one of the 70 remaining World War II veterans who developed a special code for military communication using the Navajo language as its base. 

JCCC staff members created the film, and its world premiere will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, in Yardley Hall as part of the 2012 Veteran’s Day activities. It also serves as part of the Polsky Practical Personal Enrichment Series offered by JCCC. 

The public is encouraged to attend. There is no cost or ticketing for the event, but a reservation is appreciated to make sure all can be seated. Email polskyseries@jccc.edu or call 913-469-3466 and include the number of people who will be attending. 

Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. for refreshments and socializing. After the film, Sandoval and the filmmakers will be on hand for a question-and-answer session. 

About the film 

The hour-long documentary will include interviews with Sandoval recorded at JCCC and at his home on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico. It also includes photos preserved by Sandoval’s wife, Malula, and re-enactments of historical events portrayed by the friends and family of Ed Smith, who works in JCCC’s Center for American Indian Studies, and other volunteers such as JCCC personnel and students from Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. 

Paul Kyle, dean, student services and success, started the script’s story, and as it progressed, Ed Smith and Sean Daley, associate professor, anthropology, and director of the Center for American Indian Studies, became co-writers. 

The video expertise came from Chris Horvat, senior videographer, and Barrett Beasley, video producer, video production at JCCC. 

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime project,” Beasley said. “You are doing the things that made you want to get into the field of video production in the first place…and Sam was amazing.” 

Shot(s) on location 

Beasley, Horvat, Smith, Daley and Kyle, along with an interpreter, Jb Kinlacheeny visited Sandoval in his home in July 2011. Each wall was a museum to the Code Talkers, full of photos of Sandoval. 

They took Sandoval around the reservation and recorded his thoughts. Horvat said it was a little like taking anyone’s grandpa to where they grew up. The stories flowed as the places filled with memories. 

“I think it was essential that we were there,” Daley said. “To see where someone grew up, to make that connection to where they’re from, that’s important for a project like this,” Daley said. 

The film is told in chronological order, starting with Sandoval’s early days with his great-grandfather. It then tells the story of Sandoval as a child in the Indian mission boarding school run by the Methodist church. Students were taught English and were forbidden to speak the Navajo language. In an irony not lost on the filmmakers, this prohibited language a decade later was the basis for a code that ultimately helped the U.S. win the war. 

 “I think the film will be something Samuel can be proud of,” Kyle said.