Chester Nez, the last of the "Original 29″ Navajo Code Talkers who developed and implemented an intricate, top-secret code that confounded the Japanese in World War II, died June 4 at his home in Albuquerque, NM. Nez, whose health had been deteriorating the past few years, was 93.
The Code Talkers took part in every assault conducted by the Marine Corps in the Pacific, sending thousands of messages on Japanese troop movements and battlefield tactics, directing artillery attacks and providing other communications critical to the Allied victory—a contribution that remained a secret for more than 40 years after the war ended.
Nez was sworn into the Corps at Fort Defiance in May 1942. From there he went to Camp Pendleton for basic training, and then 29 Navajos were selected and assigned to the 382nd Platoon, according to the 2012 book about Nez, "Code Talker," by Judith Schiess Avila.
"After boot camp training was over they sent us to Camp Elliott, and that's where we started doing the code," Nez said in the 2011 interview with The Albuquerque Journal. "It was kind of hard work, but it didn't take us too long to develop the code."
The code-makers developed an alphabet using common Navajo words. For example, "A" became the Navajo word for "ant" or wolla-chee. "A" could also be bela-sana, the Navajo word for "apple," or tse-nill for "ax." A submarine became an iron fish, a tank became a tortoise and a grenade was a potato. Code Talkers memorized the code through constant repetition — during breaks, at night, during meals and on long ship voyages throughout the Pacific.
Nez and the Code Talkers worked in teams of two, one sending coded messages by radio while the other cranked the radio's internal generator and watched for the enemy or returned fire.
In a July 26, 2011 White House ceremony, President George W. Bush presented Nez with a Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian award. Nez was to be interred in Santa Fe National Cemetery with full military honors this week.