Chester Nez (January 23, 1921 – June 4, 2014) was an American veteran of World War II. He was the last original Navajo code talker who served in the United States Marine Corps during the war.
Nez was born in Chi Chil Tah, New Mexico, to the Navajo Dibéłizhiní (Black Sheep Clan) of the Tsénahabiłnii (Sleeping Rock People). He was raised during a time when there were difficult relations between the U.S. government and the Navajo Nation. His mother died when he was only three years old. One day a strange Mexican man went to Chester's house and told his father about free boarding school. Nez recalled children often being taken from reservations, sent to boarding schools, and told to not speak the Navajo language. It was from one of the schools, in Tuba City, Arizona, that Nez was recruited into the Marine Corps.
Nez kept his decision to enlist from his family and lied about his age to meet enlistment requirements. He was assigned to the 382nd Infantry Regiment at Camp Pendleton in California where he and 28 other Navajo were tasked with creating a code for communications during WWII. The Navajo language was chosen because its syntax and tonal qualities were nearly impossible for a non-Navajo to learn, and it had no written form. Nez stated the developers used everyday words, in order to easily memorize and retain them. In 1942, he was among the code talkers to be shipped out to Guadalcanal, where they worked in teams of two—one to send and receive, the other to operate the radio and listen for errors. Nez also fought in Bougainville, Guam, Angaur and Peleliu. He was honorably discharged as a Private First Class in 1945 and returned to serve stateside in the Korean War from which he was discharged as a corporal.
From 1946 to 1952, Nez attended the University of Kansas (KU) to study commercial arts. Following his military service, he worked as a painter for 25 years at a V.A. hospital in Albuquerque. In 2011, he wrote the memoir Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII with Judith Avila. In November 2012, he received a bachelor of fine arts degree from KU.
Congressional Gold Medal
Today, we marked a moment of shared history and shared victory. We recall a story that all Americans can celebrate and every America [sic] should know. It is a story of ancient people called to serve in a modern war. It is a story of one unbreakable oral code of the Second World War, messages travelling by field radio on Iwo Jima in the very language heard across the Colorado plateau centuries ago. — President George W. Bush
- Stapleton, AnneClaire; Carter, Chelsea J. (June 5, 2014). "Chester Nez, last of original Navajo code talkers of World War II, dies". CNN. Retrieved June 5, 2014.
- Ramsey, Nick (June 4, 2014). "Chester Nez, last of the original WWII Navajo Code Talkers, dies". MSNBC. Retrieved June 5, 2014.
- Smith, Noel Lyn (June 4, 2014). "Chester Nez, last of the original Navajo Code Talkers, has died". Daily Times (Farmington, New Mexico). Retrieved June 5, 2014.
- Tibbetts, Meredith (November 15, 2013). "Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez: Telling a tale of bravery and ingenuity". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved June 5, 2014.
- "President Bush Honors World War II Navajo Code Talkers Receiving Congressional Gold Medal". CNN (Time Warner). July 26, 2001. Retrieved June 5, 2014.
- Shelly, Ben (June 4, 2014). "President Shelly orders flags at half-staff in honor of Chester Nez". navajopresident.org. Retrieved June 5, 2014.
- Navajo Code Talkers: The Uncrackable Language, featuring Chester Nez