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Donovan Quintero, Associated Press
FILE - In this July 31, 2009 photo, President of the Navajo Code Talkers Association Keith Little smiles at the signing ceremony between Chevron Mining Inc and the Navajo Code Talkers Association, about 2 miles east of Window Rock, Ariz. The Navajo Code Talkers Association says Little died Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012 at a Fort Defiance, Ariz., hospital. He was 87.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Keith Little, one of the most recognizable faces of the Navajo Code Talkers, has died.

The Navajo Code Talkers Association says Little died Tuesday night at a Fort Defiance hospital. He was 87.

Little joined the Marines at 17 and used a code based on the Navajo language to confound the Japanese and help win World War II. He was among hundreds of Navajos recruited by the U.S. Marine Corps and trained as Code Talkers.

Little served as president of the association and traveled around the country advocating for a museum to help tell the Code Talkers stories, and preserve Navajo tradition, culture and the language. He ran a family ranch in Crystal, N.M.

The association says his health had been deteriorating over the past year.