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Saturday October 1st, 2016 4:43AM

Last of original group of Navajo Code Talkers dies

By The Associated Press
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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- The last of the 29 Navajos who developed a code that stumped the Japanese during World War II has died.<br /> <br /> Chester Nez, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, died Wednesday morning of kidney failure, said Judy Avila, who helped Nez write his memoirs. He was 93.<br /> <br /> Before hundreds of men from the Navajo Nation became Code Talkers, 29 Navajos were recruited to develop the code based on the then-unwritten Navajo language. Nez was in 10th grade when he enlisted, keeping his decision a secret from his family and lying about his age, as did many others.<br /> <br /> "It's one of the greatest parts of history that we used our own native language during World War II," Nez told The Associated Press in 2009. "We're very proud of it."<br /> <br /> Of the 250 Navajos who showed up at Fort Defiance - then a U.S. Army base - 29 were selected to join the first all-Native American unit of Marines. They were inducted in May 1942. Nez became part of the 382nd Platoon.<br /> <br /> Using Navajo words for red soil, war chief, clan, braided hair, beads, ant and hummingbird, for example, they came up with a glossary of more than 200 terms that later was expanded and an alphabet.<br /> <br /> Nez has said he was concerned the code wouldn't work. At the time, few non-Navajos spoke the language. Even Navajos who did couldn't understand the code. It proved impenetrable.<br /> <br /> The Navajos trained in radio communications were walking copies of the code. Each message read aloud by a Code Talker was immediately destroyed.<br /> <br /> "The Japanese did everything in their power to break the code but they never did," Nez said in 2010.<br /> <br /> After World War II, Nez volunteered to serve two more years during the Korean War. He retired in 1974 after a 25-year career as a painter at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Albuquerque.<br /> <br /> Nez was eager to tell his family about his role as a Code Talker, Avila said, but he couldn't. The mission wasn't declassified until 1968.<br /> <br /> The accolades came much later, and the Code Talkers now are widely celebrated. The original group received Congressional Gold Medals in 2001, and a movie based on the Code Talkers was released the following year. They have appeared on television and in parades and routinely are asked to speak to veterans groups and students.<br /> <br /> Nez threw the opening pitch at a 2004 Major League Baseball game and offered a blessing for the presidential campaign of John Kerry. In 2012, he received a bachelor's degree from the University of Kansas, where he abandoned his studies in fine arts after money from his GI Bill ran out.<br /> <br /> Despite having both legs partially amputated due to diabetes and being confined to a wheelchair, Avila said Nez loved to travel and tell his story.<br /> <br /> "He always wanted to go, he loved meeting people," she said. "And with something like kidney failure, it comes really gradually. At the end, he was really tired."<br /> <br /> Funeral arrangements are pending.
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