NM state Sen. John Pinto, one of last of the Navajo Code Talkers, has died at age 94

Noel Lyn Smith
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NM state Sen. John Pinto, one of last of the Navajo Code Talkers, has died at age 94

John Pinto was also a long-serving member of the New Mexico state senate.

FARMINGTON, N.M. – John Pinto, a long-serving New Mexico state senator and World War II Navajo Code Talker, died Friday, according to the Gallup Police Department. He was 94.

Pinto's family issued a statement Friday afternoon saying the senator was surrounded by family when he died.

"He worked tirelessly throughout his lifetime to serve the Diné people. The family would like to express their gratitude to his constituents and fellow legislators for allowing him to serve, it is what truly made him happy," the family said.

The New Mexico State Senate Democratic Caucus stated Pinto was the senate's most senior member, with his service beginning in 1977.

State Sen. John Pinto was named the first recipient of an honorary doctoral degree from Navajo Technical University on May 17, 2019, in Crownpoint.

"A senator for more than 40 years, he represented his constituents with grace, wisdom and tenacity. Through the relationships he built and respect he earned, he was able to secure innumerable crucial investments for New Mexico communities, in particular Native communities," Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement.

State Sen. John Pinto reviews documentation during the New Mexico Legislature's Indian Affairs Committee meeting on Sept. 17, 2018 at the Gadii'ahi-Tokoi Chapter house in Gadii'ahi.

Lujan Grisham, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Speaker Seth Damon were among officials at the state, tribal and federal levels who reflected on Pinto's dedication to public service.

"Words cannot express the sadness we feel for the loss of a great Diné warrior who served our country as a Navajo Code Talker and in the New Mexico State Senate for many years. He dedicated his life to helping others and he changed the lives of so many people for the better," Nez said in a statement.

Gallup police officers were dispatched Friday morning to a Gallup address on a report of a male, later identified as Pinto, not breathing, according to the police department release.

Officers initiated CPR before Pinto was transported to Gallup Indian Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

The incident is under investigation by the department's investigations division, the release states.

Pinto was a Marine Corps veteran and a member of the elite group of Navajo men who used the Navajo language to develop an unbreakable code to transmit military messages in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

From left, state Sens. Benny Shendo Jr. and John Pinto attend Navajo Technical University's spring commencement on May 17 in Crownpoint. Pinto received the university's first honorary doctoral degree.

He was among the Code Talkers who received Congressional Silver Medals in 2001.

Peter MacDonald Sr., president of the Navajo Code Talkers Association and former chairman of the Navajo Nation, said Pinto was one of seven remaining Code Talkers.

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"He was a good friend and a legend for New Mexico," MacDonald said.

The senator championed for money to construct in Tsé Bonito a museum dedicated to and sharing information about the code talkers.

He supported the project, which received approximately $1 million in this year's Capital Outlay bill.

"We shall never forget about his love for his country," MacDonald said.

Pinto also advocated for Capital Outlay initiatives and campus development for Navajo Preparatory School.

Former Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, left, introduces state Sen. John Pinto on March 25, 2014 in Naschitti before Gov. Susana Martinez announced new funding that will allow the state to complete the expansion of U.S. Highway 491 from two-lane to four-lane.

Pinto was born in 1924 and was raised in Lupton, Arizona, and in Gallup, according to the State Senate Democratic Caucus.

He earned a bachelor's degree when he was 39, then a master's degree in elementary education from the University of New Mexico.

His career included serving as president of the Gallup Indian community center from 1950 to 1970, working 28 years for Gallup-McKinley County Schools and serving as a legislative liaison for the Navajo Nation Division of Transportation in Window Rock, Arizona.

State Sen. John Pinto receives an honorary doctor of public service degree from Navajo Technical University on May 17 in Crownpoint.

One of Pinto's last public appearances was the May 17 commencement ceremony for Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint, where he was the recipient of the university's first honorary doctoral degree.

"I think you should call me Doctor Senator John Pinto," he said in good humor after receiving his degree.

This article originally appeared on Farmington Daily Times: NM state Sen. John Pinto, one of last of the Navajo Code Talkers, has died at age 94