Last of WWII Navajo Code Talkers, Chester Nez, Dies at 93

Chester Nez, the last of the Navajo code talkers, stands outside his son's home in Albuquerque in 2001. (Jake Schoellkkopf / For the Los Angeles Times)
Chester Nez, the last of the Navajo code talkers, stands outside his son’s home in Albuquerque in 2001. (Jake Schoellkkopf / For the Los Angeles Times)

The final member of the original Navajo code talkers, the group of 28 Native Americans who played a crucial role for U.S. communications during World War II, has died.

Chester Nez died Wednesday in Albuquerque, confirmed Judy Avila, who helped Nez write his memoirs.

Nez was 93.

Nez, among the first recruited, helped to develop code based on the Navajo’s unwritten language. The code thwarted the Japanese trying to intercept American communications in the Pacific during World War II.

The 2002 John Woo film “Windtalkers” brought the story of the code breakers to the big screen.

In his memoirs, Nez said he knew he made the right decision to join the fight.

“I reminded myself that my Navajo people had always been warriors, protectors,” he said. “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.”

The code, which they had to memorize, was based on a system in which the Navajos used their own words to substitute for the 26 letters in the English alphabet. For example, the word “wol-la-chee” means “ant” and it might have stood for the letter A in a coded message.

Because the Navajos had no words applicable to modern warfare, they settled on hundreds of descriptive words in their own language.

A tank was a tortoise; a submarine, an iron fish; a dive bomber, a chicken hawk; a grenade, a potato; a battleship, a whale. Bombs were eggs, and the commanding general a war chief.

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SOURCE: RYAN PARKER 
The Los Angeles Times

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