Posted: Jun 10, 2014 By: Hunter Moore
Navajo County (June 10, 2014)—Mr. Chester Nez, the last of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers, died on Wednesday, June 4 at his son's Albuquerque home in New Mexico. Mr. Nez was 93 and reports indicate that he succumbed to issues associated with kidney failure.
“We have had the blessing of associating with real heroes for many years,” said Navajo County Chairman Jesse Thompson. “Mr. Nez and his brothers in arms were a remarkable example of the volunteer spirit, self-sacrifice and a love for freedom and our country. I wish to express sympathy to his family and friends on behalf of all the residents of Navajo County. We appreciate his service and his example. I have admired Mr. Nez and his fellow Code Talkers for most of my life, and I am proud of their contribution to our community and to the world. As a people, we must continue to honor their memory, and tell their story so that our children and our grandchildren can appreciate the fact that even young people from remote places in the world can have a dramatic impact on human events.”
One of five children, Chester Nez was born on Jan. 23, 1921, in Two Wells, N.M., which is part of the Navajo Nation. His mother died when he was about 3, and at the age of 9 he was sent to a government boarding school by his father, who was struggling to take care of the family, and believed that learning English and other skills that might help his son succeed in life.
In the spring of 1942, recruiters from the US Marines showed up at Mr. Nez's high school in Tuba City, AZ. The recruiters did not say why they needed Navajo recruits, but the promise of adventure appealed to a teenager whose future otherwise seemed to offer little more than growing corn and beans or tending sheep. Mr. Nez volunteered.
After boot camp, Mr. Nez and the other 28 Navajos chosen for the Code Talker project were sent to Camp Elliott in San Diego. It was there that they learned the nature of their assignment.
Up to that time, the Japanese had broken every code used by the Allied Forces in the Pacific, so when Philip Johnston, a World War I veteran who had grown up on a Navajo reservation, proposed using the Navajo language as the basis for a new code, the top brass thought it was worth a try.
For 13 weeks, Mr. Nez and his fellow recruits were confined to a room at the base where they were instructed to come up with words to represent the letters A to Z as well as a code for military terms.
“Mr. Nez, and the rest of the Code Talkers, made a tremendous contribution to our Country during World War II,” said Supervisor Dawnafe Whitesinger from District 5. “Once the code was developed, the Navajo Marines worked very hard to be proficient and dedicated in their role. Messages that had taken 30 minutes to code and decrypt using other systems were translated and deciphered in 20 seconds by the Navajo Code Talkers. That is remarkable. It was truly innovative for its time, and I am proud of the legacy of the Code Talkers and Mr. Nez have left for me, my children and our communities. He fought at Guadalcanal, the Battle of Bouganville, Guam, Peleliu and Angaur from 1942 to 1944 and made a difference in the lives of the men and women of the Armed Services. That sacrifice is worthy of great admiration.”
Supervisor Jonathan M. Nez of District 1 agreed with his colleagues, “I am grateful, as a member of the Navajo community, to have such a distinctive story to share with my children and the other young members of our community. The story of the Code Talkers gives me a great sense of pride to be part of a community where so many young men went to fight for the cause of freedom without knowing what it was they would be called upon to do. I am thankful to the leaders of the United States who honored Mr. Nez and his brothers in 2001 with the Congressional Gold Medal. That medal is the highest civilian honor awarded by Congress, and I think it is fitting that Mr. Nez was so honored. I hope that our community will not forget what he did to serve us all.”