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Here's a hypothetical: imagine you're a typical high school student. Scratch that—imagine that you're a high school student who has been bullied by teachers (because you're Navajo), whose family's source of income has been literally burned by the US government (because your family is Navajo) and who will not be able to vote in US elections when you come of age (because you're Navajo).
Oh yeah: and your bedtime stories include tales of Navajo land being seized by the US government and thousands of Navajo being killed… again, by the US government.
Back to our hypothetical: you're a Navajo high school student. Suddenly, Pearl Harbor is bombed. The US government says, "Hey, we're looking for people to join the Marines."
What do you do in this situation? Laugh? Say "nuh-uh"? Go back to your geometry homework?
Not if you're Chester Nez. You join the Marines, help create an unbreakable secret code, memorize that secret code, go off to war for several years (with no break), and help in a big way to win the war against the Japanese. And then you return home, and the US government says "Sorry, you totally helped win the war—no joke—but you can't tell anyone what you did."
What do you do then? Tell everyone anyway? Go on the radio? Shout it from the rooftops?
Not if you're Chester Nez. You keep your lips sealed for more than twenty years, get married, start a family, and have a career. Then, in the late sixties, you finally get to tell people about the amazing things you did during WWII.
Chester Nez and his fellow code talkers ended up getting the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military honor that can be bestowed on a civilian, because of their work creating and sending codes… and also for living through several unbroken years of active service. They finally got the fame and honor they deserved. Part of that fame and honor, of course, is the book Code Talker.
This is Chester Nez's story. Read it and weep. (No, seriously, you might get misty-eyed.) And then pass it on, because everyone needs to know about the life of Chester Nez.
Sometimes, when you're feeling down, the best thing for you to do is shake yourself out of your stupor of sads by reading about someone truly amazing. Someone who did stupendous things and somehow also managed to be a really good dude. Someone who found glory, but was more interested in his community than being out for #1. Someone whose work was fundamental in winning WWII, but had to keep that little bit of information secret for more than twenty years after coming home from the Pacific.
Yup: put down that pint of Phish Food, turn off your soothing Netflix marathon, and get ready to have your spirits lifted way out of the dumps. It's time to hear about the great life of a great man: Chester Nez.
Never heard of him? That's part of this dude's charm. Here's a guy who proves that awesome deeds don't always have to be accompanied by being super-famous. Nez is as humble as he is kick-butt. He's as normal as he is awesome.
And we mean the old version of the word awesome: awe-inspiring. You can't not read about a man who goes from being a shepherd to the victim of a Native American-hating school system to a code-talking Marine—who fights for years without getting a single break—to a husband and father and community member who has to wait until he's old and grey to get the recognition he deserves without your jaw dropping open.
Chester Nez's story of triumph, loss and perseverance will truly knock your socks off. It will make even the most sarcasm-loving skeptics—um, like us at Shmoop—get a little misty-eyed. You'll feel small and insignificant, and at the same time, feel like great acts can be achieved by ordinary people.
Essentially, you'll feel awe. And as a recent study shows, the feeling of awe isn't just, well, awesome. It also makes you into a happier, better person.
We're betting that Chester Nez felt a lot of awe in his life.
Navajo Code Talkers
A website dedicated to sharing the stories of the Navajo code talkers.
Code Talker: Memoir of WWII Navajo Marine Chester Nez
A Facebook page for Code Talker, which shares news related to Chester Nez.
A movie about the Navajo code talkers and the bodyguards assigned to protect them.
Interview with Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez
Nez chats with the magazine Armchair General about his work as a code talker.
Navajo Code Talkers: The Uncrackable Language
A Marines Corps article about the Navajo code talkers.
Chester Nez talks to Larry King
Nez talks to Larry King. He's old, but he's still got it together.
Chester Nez, Navajo Code Talker
A short documentary by students of Winona State University and Diné College about Chester Nez.
Navajo Code: Powerful as Any Weapon in WWII?
NPR celebrates Native American Heritage month with this interview with Chester Nez.
Chester Nez, Navajo Code Talker
An extended interview with Nez on Wisconsin Public Radio.
Chester Nez, U.S. Marine
Nez holding a photograph of himself as a Marine.
A photograph of Chester Nez in his old age. Still lookin' dapper.