Family of late Code Talker says he was proud Marine

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Sept. 26, 2013

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The family of Navajo Code Talker Nelson Draper announced Sunday that he had passed away earlier that morning at age 96.

Draper was 25 years old and living in Chinle when World War II started. After joining the U.S. Marines, he was trained as a Code Talker and participated in a number of battles in the Pacific.

His brother, Teddy Draper Sr., was also a Code Talker but family members said they served in differing parts of the Pacific War zones.

Nelson Draper's family said that after the war, he stayed with the Marine Corps and worked at the Marines Corp Logistic Base in Barstow, Calif. for more than 30 years. He also retired there with his wife, Lena, and died there.

Martin Link, a local historian, said Draper was the only Code Talker - and there were more than 400 of them - who decided to stay in the Marine Corps after the war and make a career of it.

He and his wife have a number of relatives, including his brother, Teddy, who still live in the Chinle area.

In 2001, Draper was one of 228 Code Talkers to receive the Congressional Silver Medal for his service to the country during World War II.

On getting the medal he said in a newspaper interview for a Barstow newspaper, "I feel it means I'm a good fighter, a good warrior."

When he talked to newspaper reporters, he explained that the Navajo language was chosen as a secret weapon in the United States' war efforts because it was impossible for a non-Navajo to learn and had no written form.

Before the use of Code Talkers, it took military personnel up to two hours to encrypt and decipher secret codes.

The Code Talkers had to be precise and accurate, he said, having memorized several words without any texts to reference on the battlefield.

Draper recalled in one interview with the Barstow Desert Dispatch the protection he and his brother Teddy, who also served as a Code Talker, received in Okinawa because he said the other Marine Corps soldiers knew what a valuable role the Code Talkers played in the war effort.

Teddy Draper Jr., his nephew, said he could remember his uncle coming to visit family members in the Chinle area when he was younger during the summer.

"He would love to talk to the others and tell them stories about his life," he said.

The younger Teddy said his father, who is 92, had been in Barstow visiting his brother up until a couple of days before he died. He had returned to the reservation because family members felt that Nelson Draper's health was improving.

He was a member of the Navajo Code Talker's Association but because of his residency in California, he was not an active member. However, when called upon by organizations in the Barstow area, he gave speeches on the role the Navajo Code Talkers played in the winning of the war.

His family said Sunday that while he maintained his home in Barstow, he visited relatives frequently on the reservation and was always proud of being a Code Talker.

He had seven children, 35 grandchildren and 49 great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are still pending.