Native Village 
Youth and Education News

December 1, 2013

Last original Code Talker shares story, accomplishments with SFIS students
Condensed by Native Village

Arizona: Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez brought a sense of pride and history to students at Santa Fe Indian School.

“I was very happy to use our Navajo language against the Japanese,” the 92-year-old Nez told an all-school assembly last month. He appeared in good health and spoke with a strong voice, though he's confined to a wheelchair due to the diabetes-related amputation of both feet.

The visit was arranged by a teacher and friend of Judith Avila, who authored with Nez on the book Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by one of the Original Code Talkers of WWII (Penguin Books).

Much of the proceeds from the book provide income for Nez’s family, Avila said.

The secret code was derived from the Navajo language and used by U.S. Marines to send combat information during the bloody battles against the Japanese in the Pacific. According to the Code Talkers Web page, it is the only unbroken code in military history.

Originally from the Navajo village of Chichiltah, Nez was one of the original 29 Navajos. The men, mostly farmers and sheepherders, developed an encrypted code that could baffle the Japanese.

Eventually, about 400 Navajos were trained as Code Talkers.  Only 30 remain alive.  Nez is the last of the original group.

Nez saw combat on the islands of Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam, Peleliu and Angaur. He gave an example of how they used the code to convey battle information without the Japanese knowing.

He recalled an incident on Guadalcanal when he saw an enemy machine gun nest on the Marines’ right flank. He used the code to relay the information. “Our boys did a fine job” in spotting and wiping out the Japanese gunners, Nez said.

The secret code, according to the Web page, contained Native terms associated with military language, such as tanks, grenades and airplanes. They also used native terms that represented the letters in the alphabet.

“For example, the Navajo word for tortoise, chay-da-gahi, meant tank, and a dive-bomber, gini, was a “chicken hawk,” (a bird that dives on its prey).

Sometimes the translation was more literal, as in besh-lo (iron fish) which meant submarine. Other times it was metaphorical, as in ne-he-mah (our mother), which meant “America.”

Nez told the students that upon discharge, the Navajos were told never to speak of their work to anyone.









Chester Nez Gets a Standing Ovation At the Santa Fe Indian School's Pueblo Pavilion.

“I was surprised,” he said. But after a few years, the Code Talkers were told they could talk of their combat experiences with their parents. Nez, who arrived back home when he was only 18, said he could accept the secrecy because “for me, it was very important.”

Nez’s son, Michael, said his father returned from the war physically uninjured, but was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The Navajos recognized the problem and treated Nez in Native ways that included prayer.

After taking questions from the students, Nez shook hands with many of them and autographed Avila’s book and personal items, including a basketball and a tennis shoe.

Sophomore Brandon Coriz of Santa Domingo Pueblo said it was an honor to have met Nez.

“I had never seen [a Code Talker],” he said. “It was something special that I will always remember and tell my children and my children’s children.”

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