The December to Remember: Last of the Wind Talkers

So as I mentioned in my previous post published on December 1st, I will be posting articles that are related to WWII and or Pearl Harbor that are of current events. Our first article is one that I found on daily-times.com which is a local news paper from New Mexico.

There is a movie called “Wind Talkers” with Nicolas Cage. The storyline is about an American Marine named Joe Enders. Joe is a decorated Marine who is by-the-book to a fault, is just coming back on duty (by cheating on his medical tests). “Ox” Anderson, much greener, is also getting the same new task: Protect the Navajo codetalkers (Ben Yahzee and Charles Whitehorse, respectively). While Enders is initially frustrated with his assignment, his respect grows as the codetalkers prove their worth in the brutal battle to take Saipan. If you have not seen this movie, it is a MUST SEE!

Today’s article is about the last surviving member of the real Navajo Marines; Mr. Chester Nez.

Chester Nez, the only surviving member of the original 29 Navajo Marines who used their native language to devise an unbreakable code during World War II, will appear at the New Mexico Aztec Community/Senior Center on Wednesday, Dec. 7.

This is the first time Nez has visited the Four Corners area to present his story, and he is accompanied by Judith Avila, author of “Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII.”

The event is being sponsored by the Aztec Public Library and the New Mexico Endowment for Humanities. Nez grew up in New Mexico, and in the 1920s, along with many other Navajos, he attended a government-run boarding school which attempted to erase Indian culture and language. Nez later was recruited by the U.S. Marines to help devise a code using the same language the government earlier tried to force him to abandon.

Nez and his fellow Code Talkers faced many cultural challenges during the war, one of the most difficult being surrounded by so much death. Navajos believe that when a dead body is encountered, the dead person’s spirit stays with the living. Returning home after the war, Nez felt he was haunted by these ghosts until an “Enemy Way” cleansing ceremony freed him of the spirits.

Nez, 90, lives in Albuquerque with his son. Organizers of Wednesday’s event hope it will be a great educational opportunity for local students. Students from local schools and dormitories are being bused in, Aztec Library Director Sabrina Hood said. Veterans groups are also expected to attend. Ariana Young, Miss Indian Farmington and a student at Tibbetts Middle School, will be present, and the Aztec High School ROTC will present the colors. Avila will provide a Power Point presentation about Nez and the Code Talkers, and she will be available for questions and a book signing after the presentation. Aztec Library Program Coordinator Angela Watkins said the date for the event was chosen because the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which plunged the U.S. into World War II, occurred Dec. 7, 1941.

“December is also Native American Month, so this gives us a chance to pay homage to Native Americans who served in the war, as well as to all other veterans,” she said. Hood, who is Navajo, was particularly thrilled to find out that Nez was accompanying Avila. “I think this is such a great opportunity for our area, from both a historical and a cultural standpoint. Chester Nez is very passionate about working with youth, so as soon as he found out students were going to be coming, he agreed to come also,” she said. Like many Navajo elders, Nez fears the Navajo language is in danger of dying, and he wants to share his story so Navajo children can better understand how critical it is to learn and use their native language. “We’re expecting a huge turnout for the event,” said Watkins, adding that seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis.

The presentation starts at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7. Doors will open at 6 p.m. for a flag ceremony and seating.

For more information, contact Angela Watkins at 505-334-7695, or email awatkins@aztecnm.gov.

Article written by Leigh Irvin.  lirvin@daily-times.com

Stay tuned, more articles to come.

Thanks for reading,

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Published in: on December 2, 2011 at 1:00 AM  Comments (1)  
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