Tedd Draper, Sr. Photo: Navajo Nation Office of President and Vice President

Navajo Nation leaders offer condolences to family of Code Talker Teddy Draper

Another Navajo Code Talker, the World War II heroes who used their Navajo language to develop and transmit unbreakable codes, has fallen.

Teddy Draper, Sr., passed away in Arizona on Thursday morning, Navajo Nation leaders said. He was 96.

“The Office of the Navajo Nation President and Vice President offer condolences on behalf of the Nation to the family of Code Talker Draper,” President Russell Begaye said in a press release. “With the passing of each Code Talker, our Nation mourns these heroes and living treasures.”

Draper, who fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima, was among the hundreds of Navajo citizens who took part in a covert mission for the U.S. Marine Corps. Their Navajo codes helped the United States and its allies achieve victory during a key phase of the war.

“The Navajo Code Talkers used our language to save this country during World War II," Vice President Jonathan Nez said. “This is an example of the importance of passing down our language to our children. We are grateful and remember Teddy Draper not only for his efforts on the battlefield but in the classroom as well."

Draper was awarded the Purple Heart for his service and, later, the Congressional Silver Medal, after the efforts of the Code Talkers came to light after being treated as a government secret for decades.

"With the loss of another of our Navajo Code Talkers, we grow even more grateful and appreciative of their lives and their brave service for the Navajo Nation and our country,” LoRenzo Bates, the Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council, the tribe's legislative body, said on Friday. “The Navajo Nation Council offers our prayers to the family and loved ones.”

Draper remained an advocate of the Navajo language after his military career. He taught at the Rough Rock Community High School, a Bureau of Indian Education institution, and helped produce materials that are used in classes across the reservation.

“The Navajo Nation salutes the service and sacrifices of all Code Talkers that have gone and for those who are still with us,” said Council Delegate Jonathan Hale. “Our language is resilient and powerful enough to move mountains and save lives, through our language we will carry on as a people.”

Draper's passing came just a day after George B. Willie, another Code Talker, was laid to rest in Arizona. Willie passed away on December 5 at the age of 92.

“The Navajo Nation is grateful for George B. Willie and for his family,” Nez said as the war hero was buried at Arizona Veterans Memorial Park at Camp Navajo in Bellemont, Arizona, on Thursday. “With the dawn of the coming year, the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of 1868 is fast approaching. Our Code Talkers honored that agreement to help protect the United States and we continue to carry on their legacy to this day.”

Of the 29 original Code Talkers, who received Congressional Gold Medals for being the first to develop and transmit the unbreakable code, all have passed on. Chester Nez, who died in June 2014, was the last of that group.

More than 300 Navajo citizens followed in their footsteps while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. Their ranks are slowly dwindling -- all are in their 90s, with Fleming Begaye, Sr., being the oldest at 97.

Funeral arrangements and services for Draper are pending.

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