​Passage: The last of the Code Talkers

PFC Preston Toledo and PFC Frank Toledo, both Navajo Indians, relay radio communications in their native tongue in the South Pacific, July 7, 1943.

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It happened this week . . . the passing of a World War II hero.

Chester Nez died Wednesday at his home in Albuquerque, and if you don't recognize his name, that's because for many years the government didn't want you to know his name or his exploits.

Nez was a former Marine, and the last surviving member of the original Code Talkers -- 29 young members of the Navajo Nation recruited by the military in 1942 because of their fluency in the Navajo language.

The Code Talkers used that complex language as the basis for a spoken code for transmitting radio messages throughout the Pacific, confident that the eavesdropping Japanese wouldn't have a clue:

In a "60 Minutes II" interview back in 2002, Nez remembered his very first coded message, and the translation: "Enemy machine gun nest on your right flank. Destroy."

By war's end, some 400 Navajo Code Talkers had served in the Pacific, transmitting life-or-death messages in a code the enemy never broke.

This Oct. 3, 2009, file photo, shows Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez speaking to a woman outside an Albuquerque, N.M., tourist shop during a book signing event.
AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca

And for some 20 years afterward, the secret language STAYED secret, just in case the U.S. ever needed to use the code again in another war.

Finally, the secret achievement of the Code Talkers was revealed, and in 2001, Chester Nez and four other surviving Code Talkers received Congressional Gold Medals from President George W. Bush -- medals for putting their ancient language to a crucial, modern-day use:

"We did. We won the war with it," Nez said.

Chester Nez was 93.

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