World War II Navajo Code Talker Now a KU Graduate

LAWRENCE, Kan. — The World War II Navajo code talkers will go down in history for being the only war-time code ever developed that has never been broken – and on Monday, one of the last living links to that part of American history was in Lawrence to receive an honor from the University of Kansas that marks the end of a 60-year journey.

Chester Nez is 91 years old, and he says he’s lived a good life with many accomplishments. But one thing he could never add to his list of accomplishments was a college degree.

That changed on Monday at a ceremony at the University of Kansas, where Nez was showered with attention and gifts: blankets, a cedar box and a key to the city of Lawrence. He even had his picture taken over and over again like a movie star. Nez has received a lot of attention ever since Judy Avila’s book and then a movie came out about the code talkers.

But for decades what he and 28 other men did using the Navajo language to develop a war-time code remained a secret.

“Their code has never been broken,” Avila says, “it’s the only code in modern warfare to never be broken.”

Avila says after the war, Nez came to Lawrence to go to Haskell Indian Nations University — and then KU. But he ran out of money.

“So after his third year of college his GI Bill ran out and at the time he was not able to get a loan,” says Avila.

Nez may not have graduated 60 years ago, but his accomplishment in the Marines as a Code Talker saved countless lives. Now his son, Michael Nez, is pleased to add college graduate to his dad’s list of accomplishments.

“He’s completed many things in his life and this was one thing he wanted to do,” says Michael Nez. “And now that it’s done he’s full circle, everything is done that he needed to do.”

“I don’t know what that degree is all about, that sheepskin,” says Chester Nez. “I enjoy getting it and I’m happy about it.”

To read an excerpt from Judy Avila’s book about the Code Talkers, click here.

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