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Until the release of the 2002 movie “Windtalkers,” there was little talk of Native-Americans’ vital role in World War II. But Texas lawyer George Parker Sr. has made sure at least one Navajo veteran will not only be talked about, but also recognized and compensated for his invaluable aid to the United States and its allies. Later this month, Teddy Draper Sr., an 81-year-old former Code Talker, will receive a Purple Heart -� six decades after being injured in the war, and two years after meeting Parker who, along with his paralegal Penny Robinson, logged some 500 pro bono hours to help Draper receive the medal and veteran’s benefits. During WWII, a group of 400 Native-Americans enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and helped the Allies fight the Japanese in the South Pacific by relaying messages from the frontlines using the Navajo language as a basis for an unbreakable code. They were known as the Code Talkers. For decades, the U.S. government kept the Code Talkers’ mission a secret. Then the Code Talkers’ historic contribution to the war effort was “cruelly ignored” by the government and Hollywood, as the Sunday Express in London reported at the time of the release of the movie that detailed the Code Talkers’ role and starred Nicholas Cage. In mid-January, Draper and Parker, of counsel at Bracewell & Patterson in San Antonio, received a decision from the Department of Veterans Affairs in Phoenix officially acknowledging that the agency made a “clear and unmistakable error” in 1946 by overlooking material facts of Draper’s record. A mortar shell blast on Iwo Jima left Draper temporarily blind and deaf and later caused permanent hearing loss in both ears, a disability the VA at first failed to recognize. In addition, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a result of Parker’s advocacy for Draper before the VA, Draper will receive $20,000 a year in benefits effective immediately and an additional $68,000 in retroactive benefits. Draper was honorably discharged as a corporal from the Marines in 1946. “I guess I’m going to be recognized,” says Draper, who continues to lose hearing. Parker plans to attend the ceremony �- which has yet to be scheduled -� to award Draper his Purple Heart. “This is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done in my career,” says Parker, who is board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in labor and employment law and usually represents management. “Here was an 80-year-old man who had fought the system for years, and I was able to help.” Parker, who made a lateral move to Bracewell & Patterson from Strasburger & Price five years ago, says the firm supports his pro bono efforts and he could not imagine getting the job done without its support. David Addlestone, a lawyer with the National Veterans Legal Services Program in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit advocacy group for veterans, says Parker’s efforts on Draper’s behalf stand out as remarkably effective. “Parker busted his ass to help that guy out. You can tell he really got into this case,” Addlestone says. Addlestone adds that it is “really rare” for Veteran Affairs to acknowledge “clear and unmistakable error” � especially after so much time has passed. The VA acknowledged that it had erred in rejecting Draper’s initial claim of combat-related hearing loss. The Horror Parker first met Draper when he went to hear the Native-American speak at an Indian heritage center in Cortez, Colo., about his code-talking days. Parker owns a vacation home in Cortez. Impressed by Draper’s story, Parker offered his pro-bono assistance to help Draper in his then-decade-old struggle to receive benefits for wartime injuries. “It was Teddy’s whole demeanor, seeing how much his experience at Iwo Jima affected him,” Parker recalls about that first meeting with his client. He would put his head down and you could see he was re-living everything. Here was a man if anybody needed help he needed help.” Before meeting Parker, Draper had been relying on the help of a nonlawyer friend, who fixes guitars as a profession and helps veterans as an avocation. Addlestone and Parker say that, in theory, the VA benefits application process is not supposed to be adversarial. “But in reality, any time you try to get money out of a government social service agency, it’s adversarial,” Addlestone says. Veterans who come to the agency with lawyers typically get better results, he says -� particularly when they have advocates as focused as Parker. Larry Clark, a decision review officer at the VA office in Phoenix who issued the decisions in Draper’s case, did not return a telephone call seeking comment before presstime on Feb. 26. For Parker, the offer to help Draper meant learning fast about the Byzantine world of VA benefits, he says. Once he had briefly helped a neighbor with a VA-related matter, but otherwise, he says, the process of representing someone before the VA was a first for him. Draper’s biggest obstacle was the lack of a record of the injuries he suffered from the mortar blast on the island of Iwo Jima as well as a failure to establish that he had suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. To persuade the VA that it made a mistake by not awarding Draper benefits, Parker searched for medical records from as far back as the 1970s, and provided the VA with affidavits from two other veterans who had served with Draper and witnessed the blast, as well as a report (from Draper’s son, who is a clinical psychologist) detailing his father’s PTSD symptoms. In August 2003, after Parker started getting some positive response from the VA and the agency agreed to hear Draper’s case, Parker began to petition (separate from his efforts at the VA) the U.S. Marine Corps to award Draper a Purple Heart. Parker submitted the affidavits of two veterans who served with Draper and witnessed the blast that injured him. In his own declaration submitted to the VA, Draper clarifies the cause of his post-traumatic stress:
When we landed on the beach at Iwo Jima and enemy fire was coming at us, I saw many marines die there on the beach. I saw marines with blood in their faces, some with no arms and no legs, and some with open skulls where you could see the brain matter on the ground. I saw a lot of howling and injured marines calling for help. . . . I had the blood from my friend on my uniform for 36 days at Iwo Jima. When I closed my eyes, I would cry long after the end of the war.

As a Code Talker, Draper wrote in a declaration submitted to the VA that he was forbidden from sharing his secret mission even with his family until 1968, after the Marines had declassified the Navajos’ special missions. He told prospective employers that he had baked bread or peeled potatoes during the war. “Periodically, I have gone through Navajo purification ceremonies to try and block the bad memories from Iwo Jima,” Draper wrote in the same declaration. Parker hopes that the pro bono work he has done to help Draper receive the veteran’s benefits and a Purple Heart will help even though the purification ceremonies haven’t alleviated his pain. When Draper finally was able to share his story, Parker recalls, a Navajo medicine man scolded the Code Talker and told him that his use of his native language to help kill people in WWII amounted to a sin in Christianity. “I would dream about” all the deaths witnessed, Draper wrote in the declaration, “and wake up with tears running down.”

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