Chester Nez, Native American member of the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, completed his earthly obligations early last month after 93 years of faithful service.
Nez, a native of New Mexico, succumbed to kidney failure[ref]SCPR[/ref], possibly connected to the diabetes that took both of his legs. He was the last of a secret cadre, in the U.S. Marine Corps’s 382nd Platoon[ref]New York Times[/ref], that developed an indecipherable code that helped protect military secrets during the war[ref]U.S. Navy[/ref].
As a child, Nez and other Navajo children were forced to attend a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school[ref]New York Times[/ref] where he and his fellow Native American classmates would be punished (by either a beating or having one’s mouth washed out with a bitter brown soap[ref]New York times[/ref]) for speaking the Navajo language[ref]CNN[/ref]. However, it was that language that played an essential role in developing the code that helped win the Second World War.
In fact, Naatsosi (Japanese in Navajo) chief of intelligence, Lt. General Seizo Arisue, admitted they were never able to crack the Navajo code used by the Marines and Navy[ref]U.S. Navy[/ref]. The success of Nez and his fellow Navajo led to the enlistment of members of the Comanche, Choctaw and Winnebago tribes to help further the war effort.
- Nicolas Cage
- Mark Ruffalo
- Adam Beach
- Christian Slater
- Peter Stormare
Sadly, the film did not perform well at the box office, grossing slightly less than $41 million at the US box-office and a combined $77.6 million worldwide[ref]Box Office Mojo[/ref]. Besides the film, there was also a Navajo Code Talker G.I. Joe doll[ref]Sports Memorabilia[/ref].
The existence and mission of the Code Talkers was declassified in 1968. Thirty-three years after that, the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal[ref]USA Today[/ref]. Other Code Talkers were awarded the Silver Medal.
The military was not an easy life for the Native American veterans. Nez toke CNN’s Larry King about many of the sufferings and indignities he and his fellow Navajo had to suffer. On one occasion, On Angaur, Nez was mistaken for Japanese and had a gun held to his head[ref]New York Times[/ref]. After the war, symptoms of PTSD, including nightmares that were cured by traditional Native American healing ceremonies[ref]New York Times[/ref].
He and his comrades also suffered from racism and other indignities suffered by Native Americans.
“All those years, telling you not to speak Navajo, and then to turn around and ask us for help with that same language,” he told USA Today in 2002. “It still kind of bothers me.”
To learn more about this war hero, you can read an interview at The Armchair General.