Last of Original Navajo Code Talkers Has Died

Chester Nez during his days as a Navajo Code Talker. Courtesy/ and Chester Nez

Staff Report:

Chester Nez, the last remaining of the original 29 Navajos recruited by the Marine Corps to develop the legendary code that was used for vital communications during battle  died Wednesday at his home in Albuquerque at age 93.

Nez had been scheduled to speak in  Jemez Springs on June 14 on his new book, a memoir of his days as a  Code Talker,coauthored with Judith Avila. That event has of course been cancelled.  “I hope many of our patrons and readers around the world will continue to honor Chester Nez and his fellow code talkers by reading his book,” Carol Meine of the Jemez Springs Public Library said.

Nez was a teenager when he was recruited in 1942 and assigned with the other code talkers to the Marine Corps’ 382nd Platoon at Camp Pendleton.

Together, they created a code, including developing a dictionary.

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 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 was among the code talkers who were shipped out to Guadalcanal in 1942, where the code talkers worked in teams of two, with one relaying and receiving messages while the other cranked the portable radio and listened for errors in transmission. Nez also fought in Guam and Peleliu.

“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.”

The Navajo code was never cracked by the Japanese.

Nez was discharged in 1945, but later volunteered to fight in the Korean War.

After the code talkers’ exploits were declassified by the military, the group gained legendary status with books and, ultimately, a movie that was inspired by their stories.

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