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"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, Sr.
Collection image
Teddy Draper [detail from video]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Marine Corps
Unit: 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division
Service Location: Pacific Theater
Rank: Corporal
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Teddy Draper, Sr. was born in Canyon del Muerto near Chinle, Arizona in 1923. 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; 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 become the leader of his regiment’s wire section. After the war, Draper fought for years to gain recognition of his service-connected disability that came from wounds sustained on Iwo Jima. 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.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (12 clips)
» Part 1 
Download: video (89 min.)
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (12 items)
Childhood; Navajo and English names; BIA school gave him his English name; birthplace in Canyon del Muerto, Arizona; starting school in Chinle boarding school; having to go to school with younger children; being forbidden from speaking Navajo in class; finishing first grade through sixth grade in two years; being transferred to boarding school at Fort Wingate for seventh grade; seeing his first white person when he was seven or eight years old at a trading post; grandfather served as an Army scout; experiences at Fort Wingate boarding school. (10:36) Working on the family farm, tending livestock as a child; exercise and physical training regimen imposed by his great-uncle; experiences at Fort Wingate boarding school through ninth grade. (02:31) Reaction to the attack on Pearl Harbor; Marine Corps recruiters coming to the reservation in February 1942; Marine Corps’ recruiting policies; being inducted into the military - wanted to join the Army Air Force, but Navajos were being channeled into the Marines. (06:41)
Marine Corps boot camp; being called “Chief” while in the Marines; getting his hair cut at start of boot camp, Navajo beliefs about the danger of having hair cut off; how running track in high school prepared him for the military; how boot camp changed his life. (05:35) Reporting to Navajo Communication School at Camp Pendleton; training on the Navajo Code, and the secrecy surrounding the Code; reflecting on how he was forced to not speak Navajo in school, but was now being asked to speak it for military purposes; explains the structure of the Code and how it was designed to be used; explains the equipment they were trained on; communications techniques and procedures they learned. (10:49) Shipping out in early 1944; training with various weapons with live ammunition; being assigned to the 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division; describes communications techniques and procedures and how they trained to use the Code in combat. (02:17)
The difficulty of talking about combat experiences; preparing for the invasion of Iwo Jima; landing with the fifth wave on Iwo Jima, with Ira Hayes on the same landing boat; intense combat on the landing beach; establishing radio networks on the beach. (08:58) Battle of Iwo Jima; requesting smoke rounds from naval ships to conceal Marines from Japanese positions on Mount Suribachi; finding and marking a land mine on the beach; close call that left him with a hole in his legging. (04:07) Receiving battlefield promotion to Corporal for his actions establishing a wire network on the first day of the battle; new responsibilities as the wire section leader; value of the buddy system; James Cohoe--another Code Talker--being wounded in action; constantly having to repair wires; being wounded and continuing to perform his duties; Draper’s immediate superior Sergeant Ray being killed in action. (06:45)
Draper and two others going on a mission to reconnect telephone wires to one of the companies, but they became disoriented and wandered close to Japanese lines, with the result that one of the other Marines was killed, the other was wounded, and Draper killed a Japanese soldier at close range; being mistaken for a Japanese soldier when trying to get back to American lines. (07:51) Fighting on the north side of Iwo Jima; Japanese tactics and techniques in using caves; fighting Japanese soldiers emerging from caves; earning the nickname “Teddy the Killer.” (08:45) The first night on Iwo Jima; being wounded by the explosion of an artillery round on the second day of the battle; Marines around him being severely wounded; sustaining injuries from moving heavy reels of wire; not reporting his injuries thus not getting a disability rating from the VA until many years later; long-term health effects of his wounds; filing a lawsuit to have his health conditions certified as service-related. (11:01)

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  October 26, 2011
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