WWII Navajo Code Talker John Pinto dies at 94

John Pinto, a Navajo Code Talker in World War II and a long-serving New Mexico state senator, died Friday at age 94.

The Associated Press reported that Pinto's New Mexico Senate colleague Michael Padilla confirmed his death; Pinto reportedly suffered from various illnesses in recent years.

A Marine veteran, Pinto was elected to the state Senate in 1976 and represented his constituents, including the Navajo Nation, for more than 40 years.

"Words cannot express the sadness we feel for the loss of a great Diné warrior," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said. "He dedicated his life to helping others."

Pinto was born in Lupton, Ariz., on Dec. 15, 1924, in a family of sheep herders. After having a delayed start to formal education and serving as a Code Talker, Pinto graduated from the University of New Mexico's College of Education at 39 and later earned his masters to become a teacher.

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He entered Democratic politics with the agenda to tackle poverty among indigenous people and became one of New Mexico's first Native American state senators. He became an advocate for education reform and anti-poverty programs.

Every year, Pinto would sing on the Senate floor the "Potato Song" — a Navajo song about a potato, planted in the spring and visited in the summer until it is harvested. Fellow senators, staff and aides clapped along to Pinto's rendition.

"A beautiful man is all I can say," said the New Mexico Senate's chief clerk, Lenore Naranjo.

Editor's Note -- An earlier version of this story misidentified the state that Pinto represented.