By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has one member, the late PFC Charles George, who has received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration. Now, tribal leaders are pushing for another brave, heroic Cherokee, the late Sgt. John Decator Burgess, to receive that honor.
Tribal Council passed Res. No. 443, submitted by Yellowhill Rep. Tom Wahnetah, unanimously during its regular session on Thursday, Dec. 6 which calls for the Tribe “in conjunction with the office of Congressman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), 11th District, petition for posthumous decoration of the Medal of Honor for saving several of his comrades at the expense of his own life”.”
Rep. Wahnetah said the issue came back to the forefront after he heard Col. Bob Blankenship (Ret.), U.S. Army Vietnam veteran, tell of Sgt. Burgess’ heroism in battle at a recent Cherokee Veteran’s Day Celebration. “He told of his heroism in sacrificing his own life to save his men and that he deserved the Medal of Honor for his sacrifice. So, I got with Bob after that, and he had submitted some paperwork before to get this done, but it didn’t go anywhere.”
According to the legislation, Sgt. Burgess was drafted into the U.S. Army and served one year in Quang Tri, South Vietnam. “Sgt. John Decator Burgess was killed in action (KIA) on April 18, 1969. He was 22-years-old. Sgt. Burgess was posthumously awarded three medals for his valorous service. He received a Bronze Star citation; an additional Bronze Star with Oak Leaf cluster; and a Silver Star with First Oak Leaf cluster for gallantry in action, involving close combat with an armed hostile force in Vietnam.”
Sgt. Burgess served with the 3rd Squadron, 9th Infantry Division, and according to his Silver Star citation, “Sergeant Burgess distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions during the period 28 February 1969 to 1 March 1969 while serving as an Armored Vehicle Commander with Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, on a combat mission in Quang Tri Province. Upon arriving in an area where friendly forces were heavily engaged with a large enemy element, Sergeant Burgess directed his vehicle into the midst of the hostile emplacements and played a vital role in routing the enemy. Later, when the vehicle immediately to his front was hit by a rocket propelled grenade, injuring several of the passengers, he moved his own vehicle into the line of fire and provided cover as the wounded men were evacuated.”
Beverly Elliot, Congressman Meadows’ representative, was present during Thursday’s Council session and commented, “I consider it an honor to work with the Tribal Council and the Principal Chief to pursue getting a Congressional Medal of Honor on behalf of John Burgess. I think it’s something that deserves recognition by the federal government, and I’ll do everything I can under Mark Meadows, congressman, to assist you in this mission. I appreciate you passing this resolution to get this moving to honor a true hero as was Charles George.”
According to the Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States, a total of 3,522 medals have been awarded since its inception, and a total of 262 were awarded during the Vietnam War. Sgt. Burgess is listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC on Panel 27W Line 105.