HOGBACK — For seven days and seven nights, Stewart Clah watched over the flag.

As his leaders signed the peace treaty ending World War II, the U.S. Marine and Navajo Code Talker raised and lowered the flag flying on the warship in Pearl Harbor.

"He was proud of that, proud of the American flag," said his son Darrell Clah, 54, of Hogback.

Monday, a flag flew half-mast outside his sister's Hogback home. Stewart Clah, 87, of Hogback, died Sunday morning in his sleep.

The flag story was one of the few he told his family about his service. Scarred by his memories of combat, Clah preferred to deflect the spotlight.

"I would ask him, and he'd say, Oh, no, let's change the subject,'" said his daughter Lena Hayes, 62, of Shiprock.

Even when he was awarded the silver Medal of Honor, Clah treated the honor "like something he had to do," Darrell Clah said.

The ceremony, filled with so many comrades similar to those who died overseas, may have cut his father too deeply to be enjoyable.

"He said, We went there, we did the job and we came back. The ones that didn't come back, it's sad.' He was glad he was able to be here, to raise his family and his grandchildren," the son said.

Back home, though, the elder Clah enjoyed his status as a celebrated veteran. When he went out in town, he often wore a black Code Talker baseball cap with the words, "I served with pride," and he accepted the congratulations of friends and neighbors.

"A young kid saw that and we went up and hugged him.


He said, I always wanted to meet a Code Talker,'" his daughter Lucille Harris, 65, said of the child.

Clah also loved getting together with fellow Code Talkers Samuel Sandoval and Wilfred Billey. They'd drink coffee and swap tales in Navajo so loudly that it drove Harris from the house.

They weren't the only friends he made in the service.

"Race, color, nothing mattered," Harris said. They even got into a little trouble after sneaking beer from the ship's kitchen.

Stewart Clah went to boarding school in Shiprock when he was 7 or 8 years old. School staff cut off his long hair and punished him if he spoke Navajo. He graduated from Shiprock Agricultural High School in 1940. At about 19, he lied about his age and joined the Marines.

Stewart Clah served in Midway, Saipan, Guam and Guadalcanal, transmitting radio messages in an unbreakable Navajo language-based code. In August 1945, he was stationed in Nagasaki, Japan.

He took his swim pack and swam ashore, his children said. But when he got there, his knees buckled and blood poured out of his nose and mouth.

"He said, I wanted to go home right there,'" Harris said. But he stayed about four months, occupying the empty, bombed out city.

In December 1945, Clah did come home. His family went to the bus station to pick him up. His second daughter, Lena, was 8 months old, and the family maintains she's the reason he hurried back. Harris remembered going to the bus depot in Shiprock.

"I remember him coming out in his uniform," she said. "I was 3, and I can't believe I remember that."

When he returned, Stewart Clah worked as a cook and a baker at the boarding school in Shiprock, then at the BHP Navajo Mine as a security guard. He grew alfalfa, watermelon squash and corn on the family farm, especially after retirement in 1987.

And every Memorial Day and Veteran's Day, Clah directed his children to put the flag up and take it down at night.

"He didn't like to see anyone abuse the flag," Darrell Clah said. "He really did respect the flag a lot."

Lindsay Whitehurst: lwhitehurst@daily-times.com