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Navajo Code Talkers: A Guide to First-Person Narratives in the Veterans History Project

Biography of Navajo Code Talker Teddy Draper, Sr., together with a video recording of his oral history interview from the Veterans History Project archives.

Teddy Draper, Sr.

Teddy Draper during his oral history interview with Carol Fleming in 2003

Unit: 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division
Dates of Service: November 1943 - May 1946
Battles / Campaigns: Iwo Jima

"Now my mind went back to the past - first they told me not to speak Navajo, but now they want me to speak Navajo in combat." (Video interview, 30:03)

Teddy Draper was born in Canyon del Muerto near Chinle, Arizona in 1923. He was raised by his parents in a traditional Navajo way of life until entering boarding school at the age of 11, which was his first experience with the English language. Always dedicated to education, Draper had wanted to enroll in the school when he was younger but was denied as the school was at maximum capacity. He went to school in Chinle for four years, before going to Fort Wingate for high school. He remembers boarding school as a difficult, violent environment, and left while in the tenth grade to enlist in the military.

Draper harbored the ambition of enlisting in the Army Air Force, but was denied at his first attempt after failing the physical due to a hernia. After having the hernia surgically repaired, he successfully enlisted at the second attempt and was channeled into the Marine Corps, who were looking for Navajo recruits. After being trained as a Code Talker, Draper was assigned to the newly-formed 28th Marine Regiment of the 5th Marine Division. Draper took part in the Battle of Iwo Jima in February-March 1945. He remembers using the Navajo Code to request smoke rounds from naval gunfire support ships to screen the Marines on the landing beaches from Japanese positions on the first day. Wounded on the second day, he continued to fight for all 36 days of the battle. In addition to his duties as a Code Talker, Draper also earned a promotion to corporal and became the leader of his regiment’s wire section. Draper saw extensive combat, and in his interview he vividly remembers surviving several close calls.

After the war, Draper fought for years to gain recognition of his service-connected disability that came from wounds sustained on Iwo Jima. He suffered from symptoms of post-traumatic stress for many years until his father -- who was a traditional medicine man -- performed healing ceremonies for him. He credited these ceremonies with healing his post-traumatic stress and curtailing his drinking problems.1 He also completed his high school diploma after the war, and worked for many years in education as an instructional aide, adult education teacher, and Navajo language instructor.

Teddy Draper, Sr. passed away in December 2017 at the age of 93.

Note: Two different volunteer organizations have submitted interviews of Teddy Draper, Sr. to the Veterans History Project, and these interviews are contained in two separate collections.

Oral History Interview with Carol Fleming

Interview Excerpts

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Further Reading

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

Notes

  1. Laura Tohe, Code Talker Stories (Tucson: Rio Nuevo, 2012), 41-42. Back to text