More than 400 Navajos served as top-secret Code Talkers in the military during World War II. At a time when the best cryptographers fell short of the mark, these modest people successfully contrived the most ingenious and successful code in military history and it completely baffled the Japanese. The unbreakable code played a central part in saving countless numbers of lives and hastened the end of the war.
It was so top secret that even men fighting shoulder to shoulder were not aware of their covert function. After the war the members of this unique group were forbidden to speak of their service until 1968 when the code was finally declassified.
Of the original twenty-nine Navajo Code Talkers, Chester Nez is the only one still living. And, at the grand old age of ninety Cpl. Nez has written a memoir in which he describes both his war years and his life growing up on the Navajo Reservation of North Eastern Arizona, which covers 27,425 square miles. As a boy, he lived in a traditional Navajo home and helped his family tend sheep in Two Wells on the eastern side of the reservation. He led a tough life growing up, which gave him the physical and mental strength to become a United States Marine and his story puts a living face on those legendary men who developed what remains the only unbroken code in modern warfare. Based on the Navajo language, it was virtually impossible for a non-Navajo to learn and it was not written down.
Working in teams of two, in the heat of battle they would work for 24 hours nonstop in cramped holes dug in the earth. According to a CNN interview Pez said, “When bombs dropped, generally we Code Talkers couldn’t just curl up in a shelter,” Nez wrote in his book. “We were almost always needed to transmit information, to ask for supplies and ammunition, and to communicate strategies. And after each transmission, to avoid Japanese fire, we had to move.”
When CNN asked Nez, “What do you think is the central lesson of this book? he responded, “My wartime experiences developing a code that utilized the Navajo language taught how important our Navajo culture is to our country. For me that is the central lesson: that diverse cultures can make a country richer and stronger.”
When Nez signs his name, he adds “1st Original 29. That’s quite a legacy.
The CNN interview was fascinating and Chester Nez’ answers to all the questions offered sage advice with wisdom gained from an exceptional life experience.
Click on CNN interview with Chester Nez to read the interview.
To purchase the book click on: Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII.
You can also click on the graphic in the sidebar. The book includes the actual Navajo Code and rare photos.
To quote Chester Nez: “I told my story at length to Judith Avila, and she recorded it and then wrote it down. It was important that the story come from me, since I want this memoir to accurately depict my Navajo people and the contributions made by the code talkers. Judith and I reviewed the book “Code Talker” together many times to ensure this accuracy.”
View a You Tube video about the Code Talkers below: