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Friday's services remember Navajo Code Talker
BARSTOW • A thunderous drum, impassioned plea and bittersweet slideshow were some highlights from a memorial service for Nelson Draper, Sr. on Friday.
Draper, a former U.S. Marine and Navajo Code Talker in World War II, died Sunday in his Barstow home at the age of 96.
Nicknamed “Chief,” Draper was awarded the Congressional Silver Medal in 2001 for his service during World War II. He worked as a civilian at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Barstow for more than 30 years.
A rosary and mass in his remembrance was held 9 a.m., Friday at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.
At 10 a.m., a memorial service at High Desert Word Center on Soapmine Road brought family and dignitaries from the Native American community, including Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, Third District Supervisor James Ramos and Draper’s brother, Teddy Sr. — who also served as a Code Talker.
Many from Draper’s family, including children, grandchildren and his wife, Lena, attended the service.
A performance on a drum — a song called, “Rainshadow,” — preceded any of the several people who spoke. Pastor Larry Brown, a booming baritone, belted out the words.
Supervisor Ramos said that Draper “gave me the desire” to run for office, calling Code Talkers “a beacon of light for those in the Indian Reservation community ... that we, too, could play a role in the United States of America.”
“We can’t let what they sacrificed be for nothing,” he said, drawing applause from the approximately 100 inside the church.
A slideshow later played on a large screen and featured photographs from Draper’s family life.
Shelly said Draper was “a soldier whose life was spent in service of his country. He was a man of sacrifice and determination. He has a heart of generosity and he gave and gave and never held back.”
Flags in the Navajo Nation would be flown at half-staff through Sept. 30 in Draper’s memory, he added.
Paul Jones, news anchor for 660 KTNN-AM, the Voice of the Navajo Nation, also spoke. He addressed attendees partly in English and then in Navajo — the language pivotal to the Marine Corps’ success against the Japanese at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Code Talkers spoke in Navajo, a language the Japanese could not translate.
The consensus from those everyone who spoke seemed to be that Draper, the Code Talker, is just as much, Draper, the role model.
A burial service was scheduled at Mountain View Memorial Park after the service.
Shea Johnson may be reached at (760) 256-4126 or at SJohnson@DesertDispatch.com.