Medal, Benefits Finally Secured For Navajo Code Talker
Fifty—nine years after Teddy Draper Sr. narrowly survived the Battle of Iwo Jima, the Navajo Code Talker finally has been awarded the Purple Heart by the U.S. Marine Corps. In addition, the 80 year old Arizonan has also won benefits for hearing loss, temporary blindness and other injuries he sustained from a mortar blast in the 1945 WWII Pacific Island battle.
Treated by battlefield medics who made no record of his injuries and promptly returned him to combat, Draper’s requests for disability benefits were first denied in 1946.
“They shut me off right away” Draper said from his home on the Navajo Reservation near Chinle, Arizona. “I appealed , appealed, appealed.”
Draper credits both recent acquisitions (the medal and veterans benefits) to his pro bono attorney, George P. Parker, Jr. of the San Antonio law office of Houston-based Bracewell & Patterson. It was a chance encounter between the two men in Colorado four years ago where Parker has a home and Draper gave a lecture on the code talkers at the Anasazi Heritage Center in Cortez.
After Draper’s lecture, another speaker – longtime friend John Renbourne – told the audience of Draper’s struggle to get his veteran benefits and a well deserved medal, Parker, a labor law specialist, said his wife urged him to help Draper. A novice in veteran’s matters, he turned to the nonprofit National Veterans Legal Service program in Washington, D.C. for advice.
Over the years, Draper worked mainly as an interpreter but became unemployable because of his hearing loss and was tormented by vivid memories of the 36-day Iwo Jima battle before the island was secured by U.S forces.
His appeals for higher benefits were rejected until 1997, when he won a small allowance for his hearing loss but still wasn’t treated as fully disabled. Then, Parker entered the picture and at no cost to Draper, Parker and his researcher, Penny Robinson, clocked more than 500 hours over a 16 month period to undo a string of government decisions that shortchanged Draper.
Since admitting its “clear and unmistakable” error in January of this year, the government has awarded Draper nearly $80,000 in past benefits and increased future payments by $20,000 per year for hearing loss and post traumatic stress disorder.
This story was edited from the March 15th edition of the Houston Chronicle – San Antonio Bureau bylined John W. Gonzalez.
I learned about the Navajo Code Talkers from a Marine friend of mine who had served in the South Pacific. That was the one aspect of the war, more than any other, that fascinated me, but there was never much information available at the time about their involvement in the Pacific Theatre of Operations where they had served.
What I, and most of America, didn’t know was that code talkers were barred by the government from discussing their secret mission until 1968 when the language was declassified. By that time, WWII and their heroic deeds were yesterday’s news.
As a sometime screenwriter, I was delighted to learn that a film was finally being made about the Navajo Code Talkers - "Windtalkers" - expecting to see Nicolas Cage in the role of Technical Sgt. Philip Johnson, originator and developer of the code talker program. Johnson, son of a missionary, had grown up on the sprawling northern Arizona reservation and spoke fluent Navajo.
It was a was a huge disappointment to me to read the reviews of the film which highlighted the angst of the Nicolas Cage role as a GI assigned as a body guard to a code talker rather than telling the actual story of the code talkers themselves, which in my opinion, is far more interesting than the script concocted by director John Woo and his screenwriters.
Perhaps one day the true story will be produced in a non-documentary/entertainment film that will put the roles of Teddy Draper Sr., Lloyd Oliver, Carl Gorman, Preston and Frank Toledo and the hundreds of Navajo Code Talkers into proper perspective.
Native Unity - A place for Native American Peoples to solidify their tribes to make a positive impact on the cultural, social, economic and political fabric of American society and a place for non-Natives to better understand the ways of the American Indian.