Chester Nez
Chester Nez, the last of the original Navajo code talkers credited with creating an unbreakable code used during World War II, died June 4 at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was 93.

Last of Original 29 Code Talkers Remembered for Courage and Humility

Richard Walker

Most people know, of course, that Chester Nez was a World War II code talker—one of the original 29, in fact, who developed the code that stymied Japanese forces and helped win the war in the Pacific.

But to understand the true measure of the man, let’s consider the whole package.

As a child, he was sent to boarding school, where he was given a new name and was forbidden to speak his language. Then, with the U.S. looking for a way to confound its wartime enemies, he and 28 other Navajo men were recruited to create an unbreakable code, using the language they had been punished for speaking, a language that had been unwritten and was spoken only by the Navajo.

The mission was top secret. He couldn’t talk about it—not with other Marines with whom he served; not with his family, even after the war; not with the paper-pusher back home who, when Nez applied for a civilian ID card, smugly told the decorated war veteran that he still was not a full citizen of the U.S.

When a battle was over, Marines in their division got R&R while Nez and his fellow code talkers shipped off to another battlefield: Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam, Peleliu.

And yet, Nez and his fellow code talkers didn’t complain.

They were the beneficiaries of ceremonies performed to protect them physically, emotionally and spiritually (American History magazine reported in 2006 that there was “surprisingly little evidence of serious psychological problems or combat fatigue among the returning Navajo veterans.”) Their uniforms had been blessed before they left home. On the battlefield, they carried medicine pouches containing an arrowhead and corn pollen. They prayed every day.

Sometimes, on the battlefield, Nez could hear the bells of the sheep back home and knew people there were praying for him. Indeed, in Chichiltah, his family did pray for him. They burned sage or cedar chips and fanned the smoke over their bodies and, Nez wrote in his memoir, “Their prayers were carried across the miles as the pure, bright chime of the bells.”

RELATED: Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII

The Way carried them through the endless battles and the constant threat and smell of death.

“They didn’t do it for the glory,” said Joe Price, whose namesake grandfather was a code talker. “They did it to defend their homeland—not just the United States, but the Navajo Nation.”

That was Chester Nez, whose remains were laid to rest with full military honors on June 10 at the national cemetery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He walked on at the age of 93 on June 4. He was the last of the 29 original code talkers; ultimately, the ranks of code talkers numbered 421.

“We will always be grateful for his sacrifice and brave service for our country, and more importantly, for his selfless actions to protect our people and the great Navajo Nation,” Navajo Nation Speaker Pro Tem LoRenzo Bates said of Nez, in a statement posted on the nation’s website.


You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page



bullbear's picture
Submitted by bullbear on
If you have not read the book yet, I urge you to read through the first two chapters and you will almost immediately see Chester's life unfold with a wonderful glimpse into his childhood. Ms. Avila did a great job on capturing this great piece of history. In my personal opinion, this book belongs in every school and public library. There is no question that there are countless stories we will never hear of the exploits, emotions, incidents, tears, ceremonies, and all the events that occur within families that stem from the men we so proudly refer to as the Navajo Code Talkers. We owe a debt of gratitude to the all tribes who also had their brave military service men serve as code talkers since WWI. To take that a little further, all tribal nations had men and women during the annals of history who fought fiercely and bravely and continue to do so today. Thousands served in all branches and although they were not heralded as the valiant Navajo Code Talkers, they are the heroes of their families whether they were honorably discharged as private first class or high ranking officers. I met Chester Nez and many others original 29 Code Talkers and they were all such humble and warm souls. They had a way of making a person feel very special by merely shaking your hand and greeting you with much respect, even though we were there to show them our deepest gratitude. I cried the day after I left many of them at a special event because they captured my heart and I still tear up whenever I read about the men who travelled around the world, but always left their every being on their beautiful Navajo homeland. God bless each of the Navajo Code Talkers, their families and everyone whose family members served our nation and serve on this very day. May they all return safely to their beloved families and homes.