With the passing of Chester Nez, the last of the code talkers have transitioned to their final rest. Chester was just a teenager when he joined the US Marines 382 Platoon with 28 other Navajos.
Their mission was simple. Create a code which the Japanese could not break using the Navajo language which was unwritten and hardly used by Navajos since speaking their native language was punishable at school.
Chester’s first combat experience was in 1942 at Guadalcanal. The conditions were harsh and for young men like Chester the realities of war became part of their personal experience.
Then came the battles at Guam and Peleliu. Peleliu “the bitterest battle of the war for the Marines” saw over 1200 Marines killed and over 5,000 wounded or missing in action.
Chester, like his fellow code talkers, could not take a leave like their fellow Marines since they were essential to the military operations. Of course this brought with it the fatigue, stress and nightmares which landed Chester in hospital for five months.
Chester was discharged from the service in 1945. However, he was not allowed to discuss what he and the other code talkers did during the Pacific Theater Operations. It was classified—a military secret which would remain buried for many years to come until it was declassification in 1968.
When the Korean War came, Chester reenlisted to serve his country once more. He found employment after the war at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Albuquerque where he painted and did maintenance until his retirement.
Between war and work he found time to marry Ethel Pearl Catron. They had six children.
Services for this World War II and Korean veteran will be on Tuesday, June 10 at 10:00 to 11:30 am at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, 4020 Lomas Blvd, NE, Albuquerque. In the afternoon from 1:30 to 2:15, there will be a graveside service at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.
Heritage is an important part of life. For Native Americans their heritage, their language and their culture are essential for the current generation to be to connect to their roots.
In his speaking engagements to groups and individuals, Chester did his heritage proud. He was the last of the men who did a remarkable thing for their country even though they dealt with the rejection and prejudices of those who could not see beyond their skin color.
Chester eloquently stated:
“I am glad that my country, in a time when Native Americans could not vote in Arizona and New Mexico, gave us Navajo men a chance to prove our dedication to saving our land and our people. We are citizens of the U.S., and we love our country just as other citizens do….It is important that my people take pride in their heritage, especially the young people. I hope that learning about the Code Talkers will help them to do that. It is also important that non-Navajos learn how a culture so different from theirs contributed to the U.S. victory in World War II.” Marines Blog
In the song, “Listen To The Wind,” these words appear
“If you listen to the wind you can hear me again
Even when I’m gone you can still hear the song
High up in the trees as it moves through the leaves
Listen to the wind, there’s no end to my…”
For Chester and his fellow code talkers or wind talkers, we need to take time to listen to their voices. For what they have to say is as valuable now as their heroic deeds of yesteryear, and we will be enriched by their voices.
“Time is a river that flows endlessly
And a life is a whisper, a kiss in a dream
Shadows dance behind the firelight
And all the spirits of the night remind us:
We are not alone…”
G. D. Williams © 2014
Chester Nez (January 23, 1921-June 4, 2014)
Of the 250 Navajos who showed up at Fort Defiance – then a U.S. Army base – 29 were selected to join the first all-Native American unit of Marines. They were inducted in May 1942. Nez became part of the 382nd Platoon.
Using Navajo words for red soil, war chief, clan, braided hair, beads, ant and hummingbird, for example, they came up with an alphabet and a glossary of more than 200 terms that later was expanded.
Nez has said he was concerned the code wouldn’t work. At the time, few non-Navajos spoke the language. Even Navajos who did couldn’t understand the code. It proved impenetrable.
Navajo Code Talkers
The story of the Navajo Code Talkers begins in 1940 when a small group of Chippewa and Oneidas became a part of the radio communications 32nd Infantry Division. Soon after, Sac and Fox tribes joined in the ranks as combat radiomen. The complexity of Navajo linguistics allowed it to become an ideal choice to be used in code due to the lack of documentation made available for learning to speak the language and ability for the same words to mean multiple things based on sound. The legacy of the Navajo Code Talkers will continue as many documentaries and stories have been shared about their journey since its declassification during Reagan’s Administration.
Chester Nez served as a Navajo Code Talker in the United States Marine Corp during World War II, having been one of the first initial 29 Navajo Code Talkers recruited. He is also the last surviving member of the original Code Talkers recruited in 1942. He played an integral part in the creation of the Navajo Code that would soon move into the Southern Pacific Battlefield. Having lived during a time when speaking Navajo as children was shunned, he played an important role in turning the war in favor of the United States on the battlefield.
Military authorities chose Navajo as a code language because its syntax and tonal qualities were almost impossible for a non-Navajo to learn, and it had no written form. The ranks of the Navajo code talkers swelled to more than 300 by the end of the war in 1945.
The code talkers were forbidden from telling anyone about it — not their fellow Marines, not their families — until their work was declassified in 1968. The original 29 were presented with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2001 by President George W. Bush.
Nez said he decided to tell his story because he wanted to share the contributions and sacrifices of the Navajo during World War II.
“Our Navajo code was one of the most important military secrets of World War II. The fact that the Marines did not tell us Navajo men how to develop that code indicated their trust in us and in our abilities,” he said.
“The feeling that I could make it in both the white world and the Navajo world began there, and it has stayed with me all of my life. For that I am grateful.”
Battle of Peleliu
The Battle of Peleliu resulted in the highest casualty rate of any amphibious assault in American military history: Of the approximately 28,000 Marines and infantry troops involved, a full 40 percent of the Marines and soldiers that fought for the island died or were wounded, for a total of some 9,800 men (1,800 killed in action and 8,000 wounded). The high cost of the battle was later attributed to several factors, including typical Allied overconfidence in the efficacy of the pre-landing naval bombardment, a poor understanding of Peleliu’s unique terrain, and overconfidence on the part of Marine commanders, who refused to admit their need for support earlier on at Bloody Nose Ridge.
Facebook: Code Talker: Memoir of WWII Navajo Marine Chester Nez
Stars and Stripes
English Letter Navajo Word Meaning
A Wol-la-chee Ant
B Shush Bear
C Moasi cat
D Be Deer
E Dzeh Elk
F Ma-e Fox
G Klizzie Goat
H Lin Horse
I Tkin Ice
J Tkele-cho-gi Jackass
K Klizzie-yazzie Kid
L Dibeh-yazzie Lamb
M Na-as-tso-si Mouse
N Nesh-chee Nut
O Ne-ahs-jah Owl
P Bi-so-dih Pig
Q Ca-yeilth Quiver
R Gah Rabbit
S Dibeh Sheep
T Than-zie Turkey
U No-da-ih Ute
V A-keh-di-glini Victor
W Gloe-ih Weasel
X Al-an-as-dzoh Cross
Y Tsah-as-zih Yucca
Z Besh-do-gliz Zinc
— National Archives