Thursday, March 14, 2019

Code Talker: Review

Code Talker: The first and only memoir by one of the original Navajo code talkers of WWII (2011) by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila.

As is evident by the title, this is an extraordinary memoir by one of the Original 29 Code Talkers (officially, 29--32, by Chester's count because he includes 3 men who helped develop the code). It details Chester's life from his early years in the Checkerboard through his war years and beyond. While the primary focus is on his time in the Marines helping to develop the code and then putting it to use in the Pacific Theater, we learn quite a bit about what it was like for a young Navajo to grow up pre-1940. Of course, life for Native Americans on the reservations was never easy and the forced relocation onto the reservations was a dark period in our history, but Chester considered his home life to be fairly happy until the white men decided to decimate Navajo herds because of over-grazing. Not only did this wipe out the wealth of Navajo families, but since the government used Navajos to enforce the thinning of the herds it also created distrust and sowed division among the people.

It was amazing to read how Chester and the other young Navajo men bravely used the very language that their white school teachers had tried to strip from them to save the country they loved. How they courageously laid their lives on the line for a country that had oppressed and restricted them--and that would never treat them as equals when they weren't wearing the uniform of their country. Heck--the U.S. Army soldiers that Chester was sent to help at one point nearly killed him--accusing him of being a Japanese soldier in a stolen uniform. All because he did not look like the standard G.I. Joe. It was heartening to read that the Marine commanders did recognize their worth...and a number treated their men as equals, regardless of rank. It is a shame that enough of us don't carry that over into everyday life.

Chester tells his story with humor and humility. Others call him and his fellow Code Talkers heroes. He never claims that title for himself, saying that he merely did what he knew he could do--as well as he could do it. He speaks of family and friendship--of all the things that made the fight worth taking up. He tells us of the bravery of others and shows us how important this piece of our shared history was. ★★★★

[Finished 3/8/19]

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