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Code Talker by Chester Nez and Judith Schiess Avila
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Comments for Code Talker

Code Talker: 02/06/14

 cover art

Code Talker by Chester Nez is a recounting of the Navajo Nation's invaluable contribution to the WWII war effort in the Pacific theater by the only living member of the original 29 Code Talkers. His recollections were then transcribed by co-author Judith Schiess Avila.

Before getting to the development of the code, Nez describes his childhood, his time in a boarding school — back in the unfortunate days when English was enforced and the speaking of Navajo resulted in punishment. Named Betoli by his family, it was at the boarding school that he was forcefully renamed Chester Nez.

Nez's emersion in English, though gave him a valuable skill when he and twenty-eight other Navajo men joined the Marines. They were brought together to create a double encrypted code that could be spoken over the radio from one Navajo trained in the code to another. By making a spoken code back in the days before computer encryption, the time needed to relay a message was slashed to mere minutes (instead of hours). The accuracy of the message went up and the ability of the Japanese (or anyone else listening) to decode it was impossible. As Nez reminds readers in every interview transcript I've read, a Navajo speaker not trained in the code wouldn't understand the message any better than anyone else hearing it.

Although I've been fascinated with Navajo culture —´┐Żand the language — since 1990, this is the first time I've read anything about the Code Talkers. What drew me to the book is, of course, Chester Nez's firsthand account. Now, that he was one of the creators of the code is a special bonus. But it should be noted that all 400 Code Talkers had important parts to play. The code was also expanded over time by later speakers.

The copy I read came from my wonderful local library, but I would like to own a copy. It's something I want to re-read.

Five stars

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