Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by one of the original Navajo code talkers of WWII by Chester New with Judith Schiess Avila

This memoir may be about WWII codes but instead of code breakers, this one features code makers. One of the original Navajo code talkers shares his experiences growing up Navajo and how his life, his culture, and his language helped the United States succesffuly fight in WWII.


Although more than 400 Navajos served in the military during World War II as top-secret code talkers, even those fighting shoulder to shoulder with them were not told of their covert function. And, after the war, the Navajos were forbidden to speak of their service until 1968, when the code was finally declassified. Of the original twenty- nine Navajo code talkers, only two are still alive. Chester Nez is one of them.

In this memoir, the eighty-nine-year-old Nez chronicles both his war years and his life growing up on the Checkerboard Area of the Navajo Reservation-the hard life that gave him the strength, both physical and mental, to become a Marine. His story puts a living face on the legendary men who developed what is still the only unbroken code in modern warfare. from Goodreads.

A black and white collage of photographs featuring Chester New with his rifle, men wading into the waters off a landing vessel, airplanes and tanks.


A video of a Navajo code talker speaking the code and showing an example of an actual code used at Iwo Jima.

I can only credit my newest infatuation with WWII code breakers with a desire to discover the root of their courage. How did these people rise to the occasion? Because, honestly, the world feels heavily populated by people unwilling to do even the smallest thing for another. I’ve heard the argument that in the War we were all together and that was easier than being apart but I don’t agree – a fight is a fight and we only win by banding together.

The Navajo language wasn’t written down. Instead, it was taught to children along with a long oral tradition of storytelling. These two facts, and the sheer difficultly of the language itself, combined to create an unbreakable code, one that was based on the Navajo language. This code was seventeen pages long but memorized to allow code talkers to send and receive messages faster than the four hour lag the code previously took. There is no doubt that these code talkers saved countless lives and were instrumental in changing the path of WWII in the fight against the Japanese.

Chester Nez may have passed away in 2014 but his memoirs do more than provide a lasting documentation of the vital efforts of these brave men in the war. Chester clearly lays out the importance of family, how history can shape a person and a culture, and how even your greatest personal struggles can prepare you to do amazing things. I had goosebumps through large sections of this book and I closed it shaking my head in disbelief – how can you turn so many tragedies on their ears and use them to triumph on such a grand scale? And then turn around and not talk about it to anyone?!

Chester Nez and the other code talkers used the language they were forbidden to speak at school and a culture that our government tried to eradicate to help America win the war against the Japanese. Their strength and fortitude is something I cannot even begin to aspire to but I can certainly try and adopt their way of seeing each hurdle and every hardship as a path to something larger.

This inspirational memoir was a quick read that will stay with me forever.

Note: This post was supposed to go live on Friday but between the new block format and the new scheduling options WordPress put together…it didn’t happen. I’ll try to be like Chester and see this hurdle as a room for growth!

Tell me, please! What is a memoire that inspired you?


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