ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — With gnarled fingers, Chester Nez reverently opened the small box his son Mike had fetched for him at their West Mesa home. Even at 90 years old, Nez’s face still beams as he proudly opens it.
Careful not to touch the gold medal, Nez shares a secret.
“On the other side it says, ‘We used our language to defeat the enemy,’ and that’s what we did,” he said.
Nez carefully puts the lid back on the box and hands it to his son for safekeeping. Inside is a Congressional Gold Medal — one of only 29 in existence — given to Nez by then-President George W. Bush during a White House ceremony July 26, 2001.
Five of the “original 29? Navajo Code Talkers, the men who developed and implemented the code that confounded the Japanese during World War II and was never broken, received the medals that day.
In a moment that speaks to the reverence Nez holds for his country, instead of shaking the president’s hand after being handed the medal, he saluted Bush as his commander-in-chief.
When the ceremony took place, five of the “original 29? were living. Today, only Nez remains.
“I always think about those guys I served with. I try to remember what I did with those guys and how we fought together,” Nez, nearly deaf and reliant on a wheelchair since losing the lower portion of both legs to diabetes, said in an interview. “It made me very sorry when I would hear that they had passed.”
Chester Nez, one of nine children in his family, was born at Cousin Brothers Trading Post on the Navajo Nation, about 15 miles southwest of Gallup. His family isn’t certain of the date he was born, but government officials have set it at Jan. 23, 1921.
He grew up at Chichiltah — which translates to “among the oaks” — where he tended the family’s sheep herd and lived a traditional Navajo boy’s life until, at age 9, he was sent to Tohatchi Login to read more