Thursday, June 16, 2016

Code Talker by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila

I never did watch the movie, Windtalkers but the story of the Navajo Marines who developed the unbreakable code based off the Navajo language is legendary. I'm not sure if I know anyone who doesn't know the story but if you don't, you need to quickly google it, and then buy this book. I'm not sure if Audible has their sale, but if it's full price, it's so worth the money.

This is Chester Nez's memoir, one of the original 29 code developers, who took his Navajo language  with help from Judith Schiess Avila. She writes the forward, and confirms that this is his story, and his book.

I previewed some of the reviews on goodreads, and I understand why some of them didn't like the book. Some didn't like revisiting the horrors of "White Man," or thought that Judith didn't do a good job of putting together the book, wavering from a journal feel to a history lesson. I do understand the second critic and throughout the book, wavered back and forth on how I felt about Judith keeping a lot of his repetitive phrases, I ultimate appreciated it, especially towards the last quarter of the book, where he recounts his life after the war.

However, I have great issue with the first one critic. The reviewers who stated that they didn't want to feel "personally responsible" for what his ancestors did missed the point of the entire book. In spite of all he and his people had to endure, he still answered the call, and took pride for what he did and what he did to protect his family, his tribe and his country.

When I hear of what atrocities that white people in power inflicted on those who are not white and powerless, I don't feel white guilt. I look at that history as my history too, and our generation and future generations need to work together to fight against those atrocities. We need to learn and understand our past to avoid repeating the future.

ANYWAY, off my soap box.

Chester Nez 
Look at that handsome man.  It's not a spoiler, but Chester Nez lived until he was 93 and kept touring and speaking until like... 2012, or something like that. He passed away in 2014.

There were so many good pictures, but I particularly like this one because of the look, that I think his son, Mike, gives him.

Nez chronicles his life starting from the time he was born, growing up in Four Corners, New Mexico, which I appreciated because it allowed me to see who he was as a person, and all that he experienced before, during and after the war. I also appreciated the deep insight he provided about his religion and culture, which he leaned on heavily throughout the war, and when he came home to fight PTSD.

What made me a weepy mess for most of the book is the tone he takes. He could, like many others are, be really angry for the way the U.S government treats him and his people. He should be angry about the way the U.S government treated his tribe, his culture and his history... but he takes a step back, and actually reflects that the hardship he went through as preparation for what he want to do in the Marines.

Damn. We should all be ashamed.

And not that "White Guilt" either. It puts your own life into perspective in using terrible events that happened and using them for good. Chester Nez didn't have to enlist in the Marines. He did it because he wanted to serve his country, and he wanted to make his his suffering worth something.

He also is a BAMF. Because the Code Talkers were so valuable, they were not given R&R for most of the time he was in the Pacific. They worked under brutal conditions, and most Marines and Army personnel had no idea what kind work they were doing.

Now, my grandfather never fought in the Pacific. He was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, and was to be sent home. However, I remember my grandmother talking about the war when I was younger, and stating that surely my grandfather would have died, because he couldn't take the heat.

The horrors of war.

What also made me a weepy mess was what he endured after the war. He came home, unable to vote, and struggled to find his way in life. He couldn't tell anyone what he did because there may be a time that it needed to be used again. He was lucky, able to find love and a job, but he reminds the readers gently that not all those who fought were as lucky. He also reminds us that though he was honored, there were many Navajo Code Talkers that were not honored, due to the lack of legal paperwork and his memoir is for all those who served.

I quickly previewed what the Windtalkers movie was about, and now I understand a part of the book where he discusses his Marine's bodyguards. Like the rest of the book, he's so matter of fact and he simply states that he had no idea they were his bodyguards, he thought they were really good buddies, and they just liked going to the bathroom with him! He also states that he didn't know if they were given orders to kill them if they were captured by the Japanese... but thankfully, it never had to come to that.

The book itself has pictures of his life, which is probably why there were so many online. However, I think the best part of the audiobook was the interview at the end, with Judith and Chester. Hearing him speak the code gave me chills. He said he never forgot the first code he transmitted, because as soon as he sent the message, it actually happened. Hearing his voice turned him into a real person for me and that despite being forbidden to speak his own language, he went on to use that language to save many soldiers, and inevitably, turned the war.

I wanted to finish this review with pictures of the ceremony that acknowledged what the Code Talkers did. I liked the picture on the left because it shows the other Code Talkers, waiting in line. Recognizing that there were others, not just him, is what Chester would have wanted.

Finally, he mentions the picture on the right in the book. He retrieves his award and salutes President W. Bush. His son asks him why he saluted him. Chester Nez states, quite simply, that if you served, you always salute your Commander-in-Chief. It's what you do.

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