A Code Talker's 'Journey to War and Back'

A little more than a year ago, I wrote an article about a subject that I found fascinating: "The World War II Navajo Code Talkers."

It started with a reference to the great, 2002 movie Windtalkers, about the use of Native Americans, such as the Navajos, during World War II in the Pacific Theater by the U.S. intelligence services to transmit secret messages using "codes" built around their ancient language. Codes that are said to have been virtually "crack-proof," and extremely valuable to the war effort.

I said:

Sadly, the last of these code talkers from South Dakota who served in World War II was laid to rest Tuesday [June 16, 2010] in the Black Hills National Cemetery near Sturgis, South Dakota.

His name is Clarence Wolf Guts. He was 86 years when he died June 16 [2010] at the South Dakota Veterans Home in Hot Springs.

Wolf Guts was the last surviving Oglala Lakota code talker...

I emphasize "Oglala Lakota" because, while I was aware that "code talkers" were generally associated with Navajo speakers, and that, in addition to them, Cherokee, Choctaw and Comanche soldiers were also used as code talkers, I did not know the following:

That there were a total of 450 Navajo code talkers.

That there were 15 other tribes that used their languages to aid the Allied efforts in World War II.

That out of the original group of 29 Navajo Code Talkers -- all U.S Marines -- who created the unbreakable military code, only one is still alive.

His name is Chester Nez. He is 90 years young and he lives in Albuquerque, N.M. with his son, Michael, and his family.

Nez has been asked to tell his story many times. When Nez tells it in English, he refers to notes his family keeps on a sheet of paper and when his memory fails him, "he looks off into the distance and says, 'ask my son.'"

Recently, Arizona Republic reporter Betty Reid interviewed Nez in Navajo. Reid says:

... when he speaks in Navajo, in the vivid light of the late afternoon, the colors of his memories are saturated, the edges sharp.

He remembers the words that helped slay the enemy even as they pierced his own sacred beliefs.

He remembers the words that helped protect him on the fields of battle.

And he remembers a full life. There is so much more to remember about Iiná, life.

Please read this touching and fascinating interview with the last surviving member of a group of men who, in such a unique and heroic way, made a lasting impact on the course of the war in the Pacific.

Please read this man's "journey to war and back," or as Nez says, "J'o ako téé'go nise báá," here