Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
A display pays tribute to Navajo code talkers. Billy Crosby, one of hundreds of Navajo Code Talkers who used their native language to confound the Japanese and help win World War II, has died at the age of 85.

CHINLE, Ariz. — Billy Crosby, one of hundreds of Navajo Code Talkers who used their native language to confound the Japanese and help win World War II, has died at the age of 85.

Crosby was laid to rest Tuesday at the Chinle Community Center, near his hometown of Many Farms where he taught Head Start children about the Navajo language and culture after he retired. Crosby, who died last week, also volunteered as a foster grandparent.

"Mr. Crosby never stopped giving back to his community," said Navajo President Ben Shelly. "He was a model for his people well beyond his service to his country and people."

Crosby was one of about 420 Navajos trained to transmit messages in a code based on the then-unwritten Navajo language. The Code Talkers took part in every assault the Marines conducted in the Pacific, sending thousands of messages without error on Japanese troop movements, battlefield tactics and other communications critical to the war's ultimate outcome.

The Navajo Code Talkers Association estimates that fewer than 70 of the 420 Code Talkers are still living. Crosby was the sixth Code Talker to die so far this year, according to Shelly's office.

Another group of 29 Code Talkers developed the code. Only one member of that group, Chester Nez of Albuquerque, N.M., is alive. He and his colleagues or their families each received a Congressional Gold Medal for their service, while those who followed in their footsteps received silver medals.

Crosby was born on July 15, 1926, and attended Saint Michael Indian School in St. Michaels. He joined the Marines at 16 years old in July 1945, telling a recruiter he was a year older.

He later worked on the railroad in Nevada, as a ranch hand in Colorado and as a custodian at two reservation boarding schools. He upheld Navajo tradition and culture, taking part in ceremonies, herding sheep and playing a popular card game called Navajo 10 that is similar to gin.

He and his wife, Christine, had 10 children.

Shelly has ordered flags lowered across the Navajo Nation through Friday in Crosby's honor.