Friday, April 26, 2013

Code Talker -- Book Review or Vicarious Experience?

My father volunteered in the Army during World War II, serving in the South Pacific. My mother was an Aerographer's Mate in the Navy and helped crack an enemy weather code. Those two sentences sum up almost everything I know about their experiences. I'm very grateful for their service, but wish I had a better understanding of what they did and what it was like.

Chester Nez grew up in the Checkerboard area of New Mexico, herding sheep and goats, living a pretty traditional Navajo life in the 1920's and 1930's. No electricity, no running water, sleeping under the stars while roaming with the grazing animals, he appreciated life and honored his elders. Then came boarding school.

Because it was deemed necessary for Navajo kids to learn English, Chester and his siblings ended up having to leave the sheep and goats and the secure familiarity of the hogan for the alien discomforts of live-in elementary and secondary schools. Nothing in his life seemed easy, but Chester held firmly to the values and beliefs taught by his father and grandmother. He learned to remember the small joys and look for beauty wherever it might be found.

During the beginning stages of WWII, it was realized that a super-sophisticated code might be created using the unwritten and little-known language of the Navajo nation. Chester and many other young men volunteered for a "special project" in the Marine Corps, and the Code Talkers were born.

Chester was involved in the battles of Guadalcanal, Guam, Peleiu, Bougainville, and Angaur. The conditions were awful and even horrific. The odds were often significantly against the US troops. Although most (if not all) of the other Marines got occasional R&R away from the front lines, the Code Talkers were an absolutely vital piece of our strategic success and could not be spared for even a few days' respite. Those hard times back on the Checkerboard, sleeping on the ground and going for days without fresh food or any comforts of home, made the Navajos able to be survivors.

I listened to this book as an audio, and the reader (David Colacci) became Chester Nez for me. His pronunciations of Navajo names and words, as well as his careful use of emotional voice, brought the story to life. Although it was difficult to hear accounts of the treatment of Native Americans of that time, I appreciated their resiliency of spirit and commitment to their family values. Survivors.


Debbie said...

Your review made me want to read the book - perhaps your next career will be that of a reviewer?!

Katharine said...

Thanks, Debbie! I was passionate about this book, so the review just flowed off my fingers.

Glad you enjoyed it -- and hope you enjoy the book!