Thursday, June 5, 2014

Colors of the Wind

I hadn't planned to have another tribute today, however, this memorial shout out can be classified under "history," as well. As much as I hate to bid farewell to anyone, I have a deep love for history and the stories from our past and this is a great one.

Yesterday, the spirits took Chester Nez from the earth. If the name doesn't ring a bell, that's OK. Chester was the last of the Navajo Code Talkers from World War II. There was a 2002 movie, "Windtalkers," which told the story of these brave warriors on the big screen. You have to suffer through two hours of Nicolas Cage doing his thing, but the story is perfect for Hollywood.

It was early 1942 and the war had been underway for close to a year and a half. A civil engineer for the city of Los Angeles, Philip Johnston, pitched a pretty wild idea to the United States Marine Corps - use a secret code in transmitting battlefield messages that will not be easily deciphered by the enemy. Now, this wasn't a new concept. But what Johnston was specifically proposing was -- use native Americans from the Navajo tribe to encrypt messages using their native language. And the Marines listened to and believed him because Mr. Johnston was two things:  a veteran and a former resident, fluent in Navajo himself, of a Navajo reservation.

The Marines thought it just might work and in May 1942, 29 Navajo recruits attended boot camp. Throughout the war, the Navajo were commended for their speed, skill, and accuracy. 

Following the war, those involved in this highly covert operation were forbidden to speak of their endeavors to anyone -- family, friends, and even fellow Marines. In 1968, the Marines declassified the operation, and in 1982, President Reagan presented the code talkers with a Certificate of Recognition for their service. In 2001, President Bush presented four living code talkers with Silver Medals.

Chester published a book recounting this era in American history in his memoir is Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII. He said he decided to tell his story because he wanted to share the contributions and sacrifices of the Navajo during World War II.

To Mr. Nez and all of these brave warriors, I say Ahéhee' (thank you).