Chester Nez, the last surviving member of the original group of Navajo code talkers, died of kidney failure Wednesday at his home in New Mexico. He was 93.
Along with 28 other men from the Navajo Nation, Nez was recruited during World War II to develop a code using the then-unwritten Navajo language. The Associated Press reports that Nez thought that the code might not work because the Japanese were so skilled at breaking them, but because so few people spoke the language and those who did could not figure out the code, it was indecipherable.
"It's one of the greatest parts of history that we used our own native language during World War II," Nez told The Associated Press in 2009. "We're very proud of it."
Before enrolling in the Marines, Nez would have his mouth washed out with soap when he would try to speak Navajo at his boarding school. When he and the other Native American men were inducted in 1942 and became the 382nd Platoon, Navajos were not allowed to vote in the United States.
After his mission was declassified in 1968, Nez was able to share with his family — and the rest of the country — what he actually did during the war. He traveled around the country, telling his story to civilians and veterans, and in 2012 received his bachelor's degree from the University of Kansas. "It really was a good thing, such a good experience for him," says Judith Avila, who helped him publish his memoirs. "He said he would do it over again if his country needed him."