Chester Nez died Wednesday in Albuquerque, confirmed Judy Avila, who helped Nez write his memoirs. He was 93.
Nez was one of the first code talkers recruited for the job in 1942, while the US was seeing its codes broken over and over again by Japanese code breakers. According to AZCentral, he was in tenth grade when he was recruited by US Marines, who came to his boarding school in Arizona looking for native Navajo speakers.
The 2002 John Woo film "Windtalkers" brought the story of the code breakers to the big screen.
"The passing of Chester Nez, one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers, sadly marks the end of an era in our country's and Marine Corps' history," Col. David Lapan, director of the Office of U.S. Marine Corps Communication, said in a statement. "We mourn his passing but honor and celebrate the indomitable spirit and dedication of those Marines who became known as the Navajo Code Talkers."
In his memoirs, Nez said he knew he made the right decision to join the fight.
“I reminded myself that my Navajo people had always been warriors, protectors," he said. "In that there was honor. I would concentrate on being a warrior, on protecting my homeland. Within hours, whether in harmony or not, I knew I would join my fellow Marines in the fight."
"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."
Of the 250 Navajos who showed up at Fort Defiance - then a U.S. Army base - 29 were selected to join the first all-Native American unit of Marines. They were inducted in May 1942. Nez became part of the 382nd Platoon.
Using Navajo words for red soil, war chief, clan, braided hair, beads, ant and hummingbird, for example, they came up with a glossary of more than 200 terms that later was expanded and an alphabet.
Nez has said he was concerned the code wouldn't work. At the time, few non-Navajos spoke the language. Even Navajos who did couldn't understand the code. It proved impenetrable.
Nez said he had jumped at the chance to enlist when Marine recruiters came to the reservation boarding school where he was enrolled.
"I told my buddy [Roy Begay], 'Let's get the heck out of here, climb that mountain up there and see what's on the other side,'" Nez said.