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Congressman Young Honors Last Original Navajo Code Talker

Washington, D.C. – Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, Alaskan Congressman Don Young, today shared his heartfelt appreciation and sincere gratitude for Chester Nez, the last of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers, following his death at the age of 93. Nez and his Navajo brothers-in-arms were instrumental in establishing the unbroken spoken code used during WWII, vital for relaying real-time information on enemy positions, directing troops on the ground, and intelligence gathering.

“I was saddened to hear of the passing of Chester Nez and offer my deepest condolences to his family and the Navajo people,” said Congressman Don Young. “Chester and his Navajo brothers served with distinction and honor at a very dark time in world history and their contributions to this grateful nation will never be forgotten.”

“Chester and his fellow code talkers played an instrumental role at places like Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal by establishing an unbroken code used to minimize the loss of life and give the United States the upper hand at a time when most forms of communication had become compromised,” Congressman Young said. “Along with their fellow code talkers, these influential Navajo men changed the landscape and outcome of the war in both the European and Pacific theaters.

Chester Nez, the last original Navajo code talker.

Following successful uses of code talkers in WWI, when standard methods of communications had become decoded by enemy intelligence, military personnel chose to expand their operations to the Navajo language. Navajo was selected in part because it had no written form and was nearly impossible to learn for non-Navajo due to its syntax and tonal qualities.

Chester Nez, the last of the original 29 Navajo code talkers, was recruited by the Marine Corps in 1942 to develop a secret wartime communication with the 382nd Platoon stationed at Camp Pendelton. Nez was initially sent to Guadalcanal in 1942, where he worked to decipher messages during the Allied offensive to cut off the Japanese supply chain route in the Pacific. Nez later fought in Guam and Peleliu, and continued his service in Korea following the end of WWII.

Navajo code talkers, along with numerous other Native American dialects were used to communicate real-time messages at a time when secret messages otherwise would have taken up to a half-hour to decipher. Six Navajo code talkers are credited with round the clock work during the Battle of Iwo Jima, sending and receiving more than 800 messages without error. At the peak of WWII, more than 450 Navajo code talkers were recruited and trained by the Marine Corps.

Unlike many WWII heroes, Native American code talkers did not receive recognition for their wartime contributions, in large part because their service was considered top-secret and remained classified until 1968.

In 2001, the 29 original code talkers were presented with the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush. In 2008, Congressman Don Young cosponsored the Code Talkers Recognition Act of 2008 (H.R. 4544), to honor 34 previously unrecognized tribal groups and veterans, including the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, for their service as Code Talkers during both World Wars. These groups were honored in 2013 ceremony hosted in the United States Capitol.

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