“We mourn his passing but honor and celebrate the indomitable spirit and dedication of those Marines who became known as the Navajo Code Talkers,” says Col. David Lapan, director of the Office of U.S. Marine Corps Communication.
In 1942 Chester Nez and 28 other young Navajo joined the Marines to help design an unbreakable code, which they deployed on the battlefields of the Pacific. It was the only way to keep communications safe; the Japanese were routinely breaking every other code the US military used, and the situation was becoming desperate. The Code Talkers, as they came to be known, became vital to the war effort, transmitting messages in lightning-quick time. Now the last of them, Chester Nez, has died, aged 93.
Nez lied about his age to join up. “I reminded myself that my Navajo people had always been warriors, protectors,” he recalls in his memoirs. “In that there was honor. I would concentrate on being a warrior, on protecting my homeland. Within hours, whether in harmony or not, I knew I would join my fellow Marines in the fight.”
He fought throughout the war, from November 1942 right through to 1945, without so much as a day of leave. After his honorable discharge, he went back to fight in Korea for two years.
The Marines soon recognized the value of the Code Talkers and began recruiting more; by 1945, somewhere between 375 to 420 Navajo were in the program. Code Talkers went on to be used throughout the Korean War, and for a brief period in Vietnam.
In 2001, the original 29 were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their service. “Our code was the only code in modern warfare that was never broken,” Nez recalls with pride in a CNN interview. “The Japanese tried, but they couldn’t decipher it. Not even another Navajo could decipher it if he wasn’t a Code Talker.”
Source: L.A. Times