Chester Nez, who died yesterday, was the last of the original Navajo Code Talkers, who used their native language to pass information during World War II, a code that was never cracked by the Japanese.
His — and their — achievements are legend. But they didn’t stop once the war ended.
My longtime MPR pal and producer, Sara Meyer, happened to be on a tour boat in Portsmouth, New Hampshire last summer when she found out Mr. Nez was on the boat. So she introduced herself, thanked him for his service, and snapped this photograph.
Though a ward of Minnesota for much of her adult life, Sara is also a daughter of the Bay State. And there’s no talking any sense into her when it comes to her undying love of the Boston Red Sox.
So her curiosity was more than piqued when discussion turned to the Sox and she learned that it was Mr. Nez who broke the Curse of the Bambino, leveled against the BoSox when Babe Ruth was traded to the New York Yankees in exchange for the money necessary for the Red Sox’ owner to stage “No, No, Nanette” on Broadway.
Partly because of the curse, Boston went without a World Series championship for more than 80 years, two world wars, and the search for Babe Ruth’s piano. Nothing could break the stranglehold.
Until Chester Nez took a crack at it, Sara was told last summer. He threw out the first pitch early in the 2004 season, and the Red Sox won the World Series. Mr. Nez and his friends and families got some swell T-shirts from a grateful Red Sox Nation.
Sara wasn’t sure the story was legit, she did a little quick sleuthing online and found a 2004 article from the Associated Press.
With his medicine bag full of corn powder dangling from his left hand, Nez threw a right-handed strike down the middle as the ceremonial first pitch before the Red Sox played Toronto on April 10.
Nez stayed on the mound, faced east, took out some corn powder and said a blessing for the team.
“First, I did the blessing for all the spectators who were there,” said Nez, one of only five living Code Talkers who received the Congressional Gold Medal from President Bush in 2001. “Then I said a blessing for the Red Sox to do well and keep winning their games from then on.”
It was a retired Marine Corps major from Deming who brought Nez to Boston to tell his story to high school and Harvard University students. David Flores then told the team about Nez.
“Once I told them who he was, they invited him out to throw the first pitch and gave him first-class treatment,” Flores said.
The Red Sox finished three games behind the hated Yankees, good enough to make the postseason as the wild card team.
But the curse was strong. In the American League Championship Series with the Yankees, the Red Sox dropped the first three games. Nobody in baseball had ever come back from an 0-3 deficit. So Mr. Nez gave his blessing a booster shot.
From his home in New Mexico, Mr. Nez stepped outside, faced east, and said another Navajo blessing.
The Red Sox never lost another game, winning four straight against the Yankees to get to the World Series, and then four more to beat the St. Louis Cardinals for their first championship since the administration of Woodrow Wilson.
The curse was broken.