Yesterday, July 4, 2015, the last of the Navajo “code talkers” died. I listened his memoir, titled Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WW II, couple of years ago. Here is my review of this worthwhile book, speaking of his sacrifice and contributions.
Chester Nez shares his story of growing up near a Navajo reservation of New Mexico. He pursued an education to better himself but the education provided was designed to suppress his native language and culture. Fortunately, it did not succeed. The very complex and unwritten Navajo language proved the basis for an efficient and unbreakable code that saved 1000’s of American lives and sped the end of World War II.
While the story of the Navajo “code talkers” is history, this book is not a history book, providing little of the larger picture of WW II or even Navajo life. Instead it is one’s man’s view of these realities that he and others faced on the reservation and the battlefield. While I appreciate hearing his story in his words, restricting the story to his experience reduces the depth of the story.
Chester shares unapologetically of his Navajo upbringing, with its focus on balance and harmony with nature, and its impact on his attitudes and actions. He shares also of the mistreatment he faced which also prepared him for the sacrifices he faced in the war. Yet he does not dwell on these scenes much.
While I found the pace of the book slow at times, it is a story worth reading. While the book differs from others, it was for me another story of the “greatest generation,” of those that lived through the very great challenges of 1930’s and 40’s, doing what they had to do. Despite the prosperity and ease of the day, I am prone be ungrateful and complain when I have less of these things than others or when work or life expects more of me than I would like. I find stories like this help me get over myself and move on with life.