Thursday, September 28, 2017

Code Talker by Chester Nez with Judith Avila

Oh My Brothers, may each of us walk in Beauty, wherever we travel.  Be thou not like the eight semi-mature Chiefs who limped through Basic Training and reported for sacred duty Last Thursday at the Sing Ceremony within the hogan of Brother Gilbert.  Most of them had survived well beyond three score and ten yet still felt the need to read the sacred texts and compare notes.  Here follows a collection of their comments:

September 28, 2017       Book Club Meeting Reviews of Code Talker by Chester Nez

Ron — Enjoyed the book. Simple literary style, in keeping with autobiographic
nature of life. Unusual to learn about Pacific campaigns, a good bit of history.
Well done as a life of a Navajo code talker. Grade = A-

Bob Woods —  Historically important, very few accounts of those who participated in
the events described. Code talking was only a small part of the story. Lots of
information on his life and war in the Pacific. Grade = A

Tom Genoni — I thought it was interesting that he was referred to as Chief.  I liked
it from a historical View of WWII, which was one of the pivotal events of the 20th
Century.  It is important to keep memories alive. I liked Chester as an individual
and author. He made the book a conversational memoir. It was a comfortable
read. Grade = A-

Charles Palmer — not a great piece of literature, but a great piece of history about a
person and time. Grade = A

Dick Arms — well written, author’s literary style shows through. I liked the Navajo
history and customs. Grade = A-

Ken — worthwhile. Interesting aspects of Navajo history and culture, I especially
found interesting the 1864 Long March and the slaughter of sheep during FDR’s
administration. Grade = A-

Bob Simon — I liked it. Too chronological in construction (this and then this and then
this) but necessarily so because it was a chronology of his life. Thought his
personal life was very interesting. Found it ironic that U.S. made repeated
attempts to integrate the Navajos into American culture and then when their
services were really needed it was their distinct language that had been spurned in
boarding schools that made the difference in WWII in the Pacific. Grade A-

Keith - Sacred poem cast downward.  Book Grade — A-

             Code Talkers Kudos

  In school ... English was the Spoken One
  Then it's Navajo to fool the Rising Sun
       Their code ...  Heaven sent
        Neither broken nor bent
  Indeed was essential to this War being Won!

... and from well outside the rez:

Dear Keith, I will not be able to make your meeting on Thursday. I am at the base of St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall resting my tired legs after 7 days walking the Cornwall Coast Path. I could never have been a Marine. 

 Although not great literature, I enjoyed reading Code Talkers. I found it very informative on two fronts-- Navajo life in New Mexico and the GI experience in the South Pacific during WW II. Chester Nez helped round out the knowledge of Navajo culture I had gained from reading Tony Hillerman's novels years ago.

When Nez recalled his emotions and reactions during the landings and battles for Guadalcanal, Bougainville and Peleliu, I remembered the stories my brother-in-law told me that I could not imagine about his experiences as a soldier in the South Pacific in 1944. Most importantly, I learned about the value of the Navajo Code and the extent to which it was used. Having some experience with cryptography early in my Air Force career, I appreciate the genius in the idea and the use of such a code.

Regards, Jack

Keith, my brother, may you always walk in beauty.

Outside I hear the rain fall even now upon the metal roof of our hogan, with the gentle heat rising from the furnace floor vents, and I think of the Marines on Guadalcanal, on Bougainville, on Guam, on Peleliu, many times with the rain falling on them, sloshing through the mud.  I have a truly blessed life, and I owe thanks to so many who came before.

My brothers of the Clan That Reads, look not into my eyes; I will not be present in body at the sing on Thursday.  My thoughts will be with you, and Brother Simon will capture your words if not your inner thoughts.

My thoughts follow my eyes and are downward.  I realize the author was primarily Judith Avila, who took 75 hours of recorded tape and wove a story as told by Chester Nez.  Within the first two chapters, I was quite disappointed and my heart fell; was the story to be told at a 4th-grade level?

But as Navajos would, so I persisted, and eventually, I was caught up in the story.  I learned so very much:  of the Great Livestock Massacre - did Brother Ken or someone do some verification research on that sad event?  

I learned that Native Americans only became US Citizens in 1924, and even then could not vote in a Federal election.  I learned a bit of the sweat lodge and the corn pollen.  I learned that the WW II island battles lasted so much longer than I had thought.  Lloyd Nolan and William Bendix (in Guadalcanal Diary, 1943) led me astray and let me think that it was equivalent to a 3-day battle to take Sugar Ridge on Guadalcanal, but Chester Nez told me the true story.  Similarly, Bougainville lasted from 1 Nov 1943* until 1 May 1944.

I also appreciated a story "told" by a 'lowly enlisted puke' as opposed to a 'hero' or a high-ranking officer.  It was comforting seeing the support troops going in on Day Three of the invasions!  Nez' 'voice' remained calm even when the battle roared.  I felt I was sitting around a campfire with him and his comrades as he told his story.

A few details disturbed me:  where did the code listed in the book come from?  It has errors that would not have been allowed by any code talker!   Example:  Nez spends some time explaining that the code was a living language; that they had to add in bazooka in 1944, and they came up with the word "stove pipe' - most appropriate.  Yet the list of the code in the back lists the literal translation as 'bazooka'!  What?  Bad error!  And it makes one question some of the other literal translations which are identical to the English word, e.g., 'base.'

But overall, I'm very glad I read this book. My thanks to Keith for his selection which I would recommend to others.  B+

 May you all go in beauty.

    -   ZHIN-NI

Hi Keith:

I will not be at the book club meeting tonight.  I want to send you my evaluation of the book.

I really enjoyed reading Code Talker.  I learned a great deal of information about Navajo life and culture, about the history of the Code Talkers, and about the war in the South Pacific.  I was also moved by Nez's descriptions of his life after World War II.  The book is quite well written and well researched. If anyone is interested in learning more about the war in the South Pacific I would strongly recommend reading With the Old Breed by E.B. Sledge--it is listed in the bibliography on page 294 of my book.

Sorry I won't be able to participate in the discussion.  I give the book an A-
Dick Jensen