Last original Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez passes on at 93

Chester Nez, one of the original Navajo Code Talkers, in 2013. Photo from Kansas University

Chester Nez, a member of the Navajo Nation who used his language to develop and transmit codes during World War II, died on Wednesday. He was 93.

Nez was born in 1921 on the New Mexico portion of the reservation. After enduring a tough time at a boarding school, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines Corps at the age of 17 and became a member of the 382nd Platoon.

During the Pacific theater of World War II, Nez and his fellow Navajo soldiers used their language to create an unbreakable code. He was one of the original 29 Code Talkers who paved the way for more than 300 who eventually served their country.

“The Navajo Nation has lost our last living treasure, Chester Nez, an original member of the Navajo Code Talkers,” President Ben Shelly said in a press release. “We send his family and friends our deepest sympathy and condolences.”

“We will always be grateful for his sacrifice and brave service for our country, and more importantly, for his selfless actions to protect our people and the great Navajo Nation," Navajo Nation Council Speaker Pro Tem LoRenzo Bates added in a press release.

Like other Navajo soldiers, Nez wasn't allowed to share details of his service. He was eventually honored with a Congressional Gold Medal in 2001.

"The paintings in this rotunda tell of America and its rise as a nation," then-president George W. Bush said during the ceremony. "Among them are images of the first Europeans to reach the coast, and the first explorer to come upon the Mississippi."

"But before all these firsts on this continent, there were the first people. They are depicted in the background, as if extras in the story. Yet, their own presence here in America predates all human record," Bush added. "Before others arrived, the story was theirs alone."

Nez was one of four Code Talkers who was able to make it to Washington, D.C., to receive his modeal. He gave Bush a salute, an action that generated loud applause during the otherwise formal ceremony.

A public viewing for Nez is scheduled Monday evening in Albuquerque and a mass is scheduled at Our Lady of Fatima in Albuquerque on Tuesday morning. Nez will be buried at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.

"The passing of Chester Nez is a solemn moment for the Navajo Nation, the state of New Mexico and our country, and my thoughts are with the Nez family," Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) said in a press release. "Like the code that helped win two world wars, Chester Nez's commitment to the United States was unbroken. He loved his culture and his country, and when called, he fought to protect both. And because of his service, we enjoy freedoms that have stood the test of time. As we mark Chester's passing, let us honor his memory with a renewed inspiration to preserve our Native languages, and rededicate ourselves to keeping alive the story of our Code Talkers and the patriotic spirit that has always run deep in New Mexico and our nation."

Get the Story:
Chester Nez, the last of ‘Original 29′ Navajo Code Talkers, dies at 93 (The Albuquerque Journal 6/5)
Chester Nez, last of the original Navajo Code Talkers, has died (The Farmington Daily Times 6/5)
Last of original group of Navajo Code Talkers dies (The Arizona Republic 6/5)
Chester Nez, 93, was last of the original Navajo code talkers (The Los Angeles Times 6/5)
Chester Nez, last of the World War II Navajo ‘code talkers,’ dead at 93 (The Washington Post 6/5)
Last of Navajo World War II 'Code Talkers' dies in New Mexico (Reuters 6/5)
Services set for Chester Nez, last original Navajo Code Talker (AP 6/5)
Last Of The Navajo 'Code Talkers' Dies At 93 (NPR 6/4)
Chester Nez, last of original Navajo code talkers of World War II, dies (CNN 6/4)
Chester Nez, last of the original WWII Navajo Code Talkers, dies (MSNBC 6/4)
Last of original group of Navajo Code Talkers dies (AP 6/4)