Navajo Code Talker, former Marine Nelson Draper Sr. dies at 96
Desert Dispatch, Barstow, Calif.
BARSTOW, Calif. — Surrounded by loved ones, former Marine and Navajo Code Talker Nelson Draper Sr. died at age 96 early Sunday morning in his Barstow home, his daughter Christina Burke said.
During World War II, the code talkers were pivotal to the Marine Corps’ success against the Japanese in Iwo Jima and Okinawa, using their native Navajo language to provide critical communications in a code that was virtually impossible to crack.
Not many of the roughly 400 code talkers remain; some estimate between 25 to 60 are alive today.
“A lot of people knew my dad because of who he is, what he did in war,” Burke said. “My father was very proud of his service in World War II.”
Draper later became a civilian employee of the Marine Corps Logistics Base for 30-plus years.
In 2001, Draper was honored for his service as one of 228 code talkers to receive the Congressional Silver Medal. The medal is one of the highest awards bestowed by Congress. Each time it is presented, it is redesigned for the recipient.
Nelson Draper Jr. said his father spoke little about what he accomplished during World War II, even after the program was declassified by the military in 1968 — protective of the code until the end.
“We’re very proud of what he did,” Draper Jr. said.
On Friday, the public is invited to pay their respects.
At 9 a.m., a rosary and mass is planned at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church at 505 E. Mountain View Street. At 10 a.m., a memorial service is scheduled at High Desert Word Center, 30918 Soapmine Road.
A burial service is set to follow at Mountain View Memorial Park, 37067 Irwin Road.
Burke said she has invited several dignitaries to the 10 a.m. memorial service, including Ben Shelly, president of the Navajo Nation, and Third District Supervisor James Ramos.
Ramos, who confirmed Wednesday that he will attend, said Draper was a role model for younger Native Americans.
“Really, in the Indian community, (code talkers) are held up in high esteem,” Ramos said. “He was a leader for younger Indian people to look up to.”
Draper is survived by eight children, 29 grandchildren and 53 great-grandchildren, according to Burke.
“He was a great provider and great father, grandfather and great-grandfather,” granddaughter Selena Draper said.
Draper is at least the third Navajo Code Talker living in the Barstow area to pass away since 2006.
“He is a hero,” Burke said. “I want people to know my dad is a hero.”
Shea Johnson / (760) 256-4126 / SJohnson@DesertDispatch.com