Nez and author Judith Schiess Avila spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at the college's Henderson Fine Arts Center Performance Hall about his experience as one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Many in the crowd had read the book, "Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII."
Nez, who is hard of hearing and lost his legs to diabetes, speaks in a shaky voice, but his memories of the war are far from faded.
"I am very blessed to tell you that I am so glad to have served my country and my people," Nez said to roaring applause. "I was pretty lucky to come home. I don't know how many Code Talkers are left, but I want to let you know how proud I am."
Nez is the sole remaining member of the original 29 Navajo men recruited to create a code for the Marine Corps for use against the Imperial Japanese Military during WWII.
Much of that code is still imprinted in his memory, he said.
"If I had a chance to go again, I think I'd go again," he said.
After returning from the war, Nez and his fellow Code Talkers were ordered to keep their operation a secret until it was declassified in 1968.
Nez wanted to tell his father about how their native language was used in the war effort but kept quiet, he said. Keeping that secret was among the most difficult parts of coming home because he knew how pleased his father would be.
Once the information was declassified, his father was the first person he told.
"I often think about all the things I went through during World War II," he said. "The worst thing was landing on the beach. I was a pretty lucky guy. I was very glad to see my relatives and all my friends (again)."
Nez's presentation was part of San Juan College's One Book, One Community program. More than 1,000 students read the book during the fall 2012 semester, said the college's president, Toni Pendergrass.
"It creates a community, honors our servicemen and celebrates our diverse culture," Pendergrass said.
In addition to Nez's presentation, the One Book committee and the San Juan Foundation will welcome Kenji Kawano's Warrior photo exhibit to the College. The exhibit includes portraits of Code Talkers in their homes or on their native reservation. It has been on display in Japan, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and more than 50 other locations in the United States.
The exhibit opened with a reception on Oct. 19 in the Graphic Arts Foyer and will be on display through Nov. 19.
For more information on author speaking series or the Warrior exhibit, call Chris Schipper, One Book Committee Chairman, at 505-566-3449.