TIME Military

Last of the Navajo Code Talkers Dies at 93

Chester Nez
Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez waits backstage for a speaking engagement at the Henderson Fine Arts Center at San Juan College in Farmington N.M. on Nov. 1, 2012. Jon Austria—AP

Chester Nez was one of 29 Native Americans whose work creating a secret code was instrumental in World War II

Chester Nez, the last surviving member of the original band of Navajo Native Americans whose code helped the Allies win World War II, died Wednesday. He was 93 and suffered from kidney failure, Reuters reports.

Nez was one of the original 29 Navajo recruited by the Marine Corps to develop a secret code based on their native language for use in wartime communication. Because the language is unwritten, spoken only in the American Southwest and known to less than 30 non-Navajo people, Reuters reports, American forces accurately predicted that Japan would be unable to crack the code.

“It saddens me to hear the last of the original code talkers has died,” Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly told Reuters. “We are proud of these young men.”

“I was very proud to say that the Japanese did everything in their power to break that code but they never did,” Nez said before receiving the Audie Murphy Award for distinguished service by the American Veterans Center last November.

Navajo code talkers served in all six Marine divisions and six were killed during the war.

[Reuters]

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