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Review: Original code talker tells stories of war, American Indian culture
"Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII" (Berkley), by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila: You don't need to be a fan of World War II literature to appreciate this memoir by Chester Nez and his co-author Judith Schiess Avila, a code talker scholar.
"Code Talker" is a fascinating melange of combat in the Pacific theater, the history of the Navajo people and the development of a uniquely American code that remained unbroken by the Japanese throughout the war and classified until 1968.
Nez tells the story of his childhood in the "checkerboard" area of the American Southwest and his education in the late 1920s at a boarding school in Arizona where he and other American Indian children were assigned new names and were taught to speak, read and write English. It was torturous at the time but, much later, Nez realizes the experience helped make him one of the indispensable original 29 code talkers.
Nez switches seamlessly between stories about his traditional upbringing ' without electricity or indoor plumbing ' and his service in the U.S. Marine Corps. He effortlessly peppers his tales with insights into Navajo culture. For example, against the backdrop of a particularly hellish experience on Guadalcanal, he and his friend, Roy, survey the open water for distant ships. "'Out there.' I raised my chin toward the lights. Ray and I still practiced the Navajo custom of never pointing with our index finger, only with our chin or thumb. Using an index finger was disrespectful, almost as though the person pointing was going to poke someone."
The only flaw of "Code Talker" is the jarring overuse of footnotes. In what seems like an attempt to validate even the most mundane facts, including the years that Pabst Blue Ribbon and Budweiser were introduced, they provide an unnecessary distraction. This minor error is easily overlooked, however, in a memoir packed with Nez's one-of-a-kind experiences that secured his remarkable ' and rightful ' place in American history.