A big metal sign in front of Dan Akee’s home reads “Navajo Code Talker Lives Here.”
Akee, of Tuba City, Arizona, is one of only 12 surviving Navajo Code Talkers, an elite group of Marines who, during World War II, helped establish a code based on their Native language that proved unbreakable in the Pacific Theater, confounding the enemy and changing the course of history.
Now 94, Akee spends much of his time at the window of his double-wide trailer. Day after day, he watches as volunteer crews reconstruct the home he built more than 60 years ago.
“He just sits there, sits and looks,” said Akee’s son, Danny Akee. “This was the house my dad built himself, from the bottom up, with his own two hands.”
The four-bedroom brick structure, built in the 1950s in this community near the western border of the Navajo Nation, was home for Akee, his wife Margaret, and their 12 children. Akee also helped raise some of his 112 grandchildren and great-grandchildren in this home, Danny said.
Courtesy Red Feather Development Group
APS Native American Networking Organization NANO) was honored to help with the home renovation of Navajo Code Talker, Sgt. Maj. Dan Akee, U.S. Marine Corps ret.).
But the house has been unoccupied since 2006, when the roof began leaking and Akee moved into a double-wide trailer next door. Although the house never had running water or electricity, Akee’s dream was to live in it again, Danny said.
That dream started to come true in the fall when the local Navajo Veterans Affairs office got involved. Acting on a tip from the community, representatives from the office toured Akee’s home, said Eunice Begay, veterans service officer.
“When we saw the house, we thought ‘wow,’” she said. “It was unlivable. There were no bathroom facilities, no running water or electricity. The windows were broken. It was totally unsafe.”
Veterans Affairs partnered with Red Feather Development Group, a nonprofit organization that works with tribes, business partners and corporate sponsors to provide homes for Native Americans. Red Feather launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $70,000 and crews broke ground on the renovation on November 7.
Volunteers from local businesses and veterans organizations worked side-by-side with elected officials and private citizens to replace the roof, install plumbing and electricity, renovate the kitchen and cover the whole house in a new coat of paint. The original plan called for Akee to be in his home by Christmas, but the project still needs donations and manpower, Begay said. Of the $70,000 needed for the project, only $25,000 has been raised.
“We are now looking at being done in two or three weeks,” Begay said. “We’re still looking for funds, for volunteer laborers, for the little things like kitchen appliances.”
The exterior is complete, said Danny. His father can see that from his window. But Akee is waiting for the interior work to be done and a wheelchair ramp to be installed before he will go inside.
“He doesn’t want to go inside until it’s finished,” Danny said of his father. “The way I look at it, he knows how it used to look and he wants to be surprised. He wants to experience the total feeling of walking into the new house.”
Meanwhile, Danny said, his father is content to sit at his window and watch.
“He’s just sitting there, watching,” he said. “Watching with a big smile on his face.”
To donate, visit generosity.com, or call Red Feather Development Group at (928) 440-5119 to donate labor or materials.