This is a follow-up from my A Path without Footprints post about Chester Nez, the last Code Talker. His remains (as in, the part of him that remains with us) were buried yesterday in Santa Fe National Cemetery, New Mexico.
Let’s talk about Nez the soldier for a moment. At times he spoke in nightmarish terms about the horrors of war. He talked about hitting the beaches, wading through water in slow motion, salt-water-soaked boots dragging him down, sloshing toward the shore through an obstacle course of dead soldiers, body parts floating in water churning and steaming from streaking bullets and waves crashing red with the blood of the dead and dying.
OK I’m done. The intent is not to gross-out readers, but to show that a Code Talker didn’t exactly sit at a desk and talk on the radio. Code Talkers were often exposed while doing their jobs, wearing headsets and carrying a large radios, seldom not able to return fire.
“When bombs dropped, generally we code talkers couldn’t just curl up in a shelter”, Chester Nez said. “We were almost always needed … And after each transmission, to avoid Japanese fire, we had to move.”
That said, when asked how the Marines treated the Navajo, Nez said the Marines were impressed with the Navajo fighting ability. This was no surprise to him, because he said the Navajo entered military training as warriors.
Nez the Student and Teacher:
“My wartime experiences developing a code that utilized the Navajo language taught how important our Navajo culture is to our country. For me that is the central lesson: that diverse cultures can make a country richer and stronger.”
Nez the Grateful Navajo:
“Our Navajo code was one of the most important military secrets of World War II. The fact that the Marines did not tell us Navajo men how to develop that code indicated their trust in us and in our abilities. The feeling that I could make it in both the white world and the Navajo world began there, and it has stayed with me all of my life. For that I am grateful.”
Nez the Proud Navajo:
After the war, Chester wore his full military uniform to apply for his Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood, to be registered with the government as part of the Navajo nation. When he reached the front of the line, a government clerk told Chester that this didn’t mean that he was a full US citizen. Nez said, “I wish I had my .45 with me, because if I did, I would shoot you in the face.”
And Nez the Gentleman:
“I worried every day that I might make an error that cost American lives.”
So, if what remains of Chester Nez is in the ground, where is the rest of him? I’m not too knowledgeable in Navajo spiritual beliefs, but he was. The one Navajo word he chose to describe his life was, “Hozoji,” a spiritual word that means kindness and harmony, a key part of living the Navajo Right Way.
Here’s a translation of a portion of a traditional Navajo Blessing the rest of him received:
Walking In Beauty
Today I will walk out.
Today everything unnecessary will leave me.
I will be as I was before.
I will have a cool breeze over my body.
I will have a light body.
I will be happy forever.
Nothing will hinder me.
In beauty all day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.
With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
My words will be beautiful.
Seems as though the rest of him – the necessary part – simply stepped out of his unnecessary remains and kept going, like slipping off a pair of old wet combat boots no longer needed on the journey. He is now as he was before: a light, lively, living, necessary spirit, walking in beauty.
Let’s all be grateful for the beautiful words of the Navajo and what they will always represent.