While I am engaged in my CPE program, it seems the world continues to function around me – almost without my notice. Thankfully, Bishop Gibbs called me back to earth and reminded me that the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church met June 10-12 in Phoenix. And, as is their custom, they passed some resolutions for the good of our Household and our work in mission. This week, I’d like to briefly highlight one of these that, at least in my mind, connects to another resolution we’ve been discussing. The Episcopal News Service reports that the Executive Council asks that we…
Give thanks for the life and service of Chester Nez, one of the original Navajo Code Talkers who was recruited in World War II to serve in the United States Marine Corps to help develop an unbreakable code that aided U.S. forces in the Pacific; commend and express deep gratitude for the service of all veterans and in particular the many veterans of native and indigenous descent who have sacrificed much in the service of our nation (A&N030).
Recently, we have focused on the resolution to rename sports teams and school mascots that marginalize and demean racial and ethnic groups, specifically those like the Washington DC NFL team. During the NBA finals, a new commercial was aired speaking to this issue – http://www.buzzfeed.com/lindseyadler/heres-the-anti-redskins-commercial-that-will-air-during-tues If you haven’t watched it, please take a few moments to do so before reading the rest of this blog. I think seeing the commercial will help to see the connection I’m trying to make.
As you watched, you saw many identities of Native Americans. Chester Nez, named in this resolution from Executive Council, had a special identity also. He was a Hero. Without the Code Talkers, we don’t know what the outcome of the war might have been and where we’d be today. We owe a debt of gratitude to Mr Nez and all the others who looked beyond the horrendous treatment that they suffered at the hands of our government and stepped out to serve and protect our nation. He did not look to his own self-interests but was willing to serve others.
Chester Nez, the last of the original Code Talkers, passed away on June 4, 2014. An editorial in the Washington Times tells the story well:
Perhaps no one understood better than Chester Nez how the precision of language matters in wartime. Mr. Nez, who died last week in Albuquerque, N.M., was the last remaining of the original Navajos recruited by the Marine Corps to develop a code to puzzle and mystify the Japanese enemy in the South Pacific in World War II.
“The passing of Chester Nez, one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers, sadly marks the end of an era in our country’s and Marine Corps‘ history,” said Col. David Lapan, director of the Office of U.S. Marine Corps Communications. “We mourn his passing, but honor and celebrate the indomitable spirit and dedication of those Marines who became known as the Navajo Code Talkers.” After the war, Lt. Gen. Seizo Arisue, the chief of Japanese intelligence, conceded that the Navajo code stumped the men of Nippon, though they had broken the code used by the U.S. Army.
Mr. Nez was recruited in 1942 and assigned with other code talkers to the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton, Calif. There they created the code. Their story was told in a movie, “Windtalkers.” By the end of the war in August 1945, more than 300 code talkers were at work puzzling the Japanese. Silence and discretion were crucial; for years after the war, they were forbidden to tell family members or fellow Marines about their work. Everything was declassified in 1968, and in 2001 President George W. Bush presented the Congressional Gold Medal to the original code talkers, Mr. Nez among them.
When the code talkers were recruited, the Navajo language had never been written down, and it was ideal for a code language. The language structure baffled everyone but a Navajo. By one estimate, fewer than 30 people outside the tribe understood the language when the bombing of Pearl Harbor put America in the war.
“In developing our code, we were careful to use everyday Navajo words, so that we could memorize and retain the words easily,” Mr. Nez told CNN in 2011.
The code talkers developed an initial glossary of more than 200 terms and an alphabet. The Navajo word for buzzard, “jeeshoo,” for example, was used for “bomber,” and the code word for submarine, “beesh loo,” meant “iron fish.” Some of the code words seem almost transparent in retrospect. The Navajo word for “potato” referred to a hand grenade, “turtle” to a tank. Bombs were “eggs” and the commanding general was “war chief.” But the code seems transparent only in retrospect, and it baffled the Japanese, whose understanding of English was rudimentary in 1942.
Mr. Nez shipped out to Guadalcanal late that year, and like the others, worked with a partner. They were trained in radio communications, and each radio transmission read aloud by a code talker was destroyed immediately.
“When bombs dropped, generally we code talkers couldn’t just curl up in a shelter,” Mr. Nez wrote in his book “Code Talkers,” published in 2001. “We were almost always needed to transmit information, to ask for supplies and ammunition, and to communicate strategies. And after each transmission, to avoid Japanese fire, we had to move.”
Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/jun/9/editorial-the-last-of-the-great-talkers/#ixzz34wnVNGQ7
Thank you for your bravery Mr Nez. We are thankful for your model of reconciliation and selfless service for our liberty. May you rest in the peace of our Lord.
~Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council