By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
As the sun shone down on the names inscribed in a marble statue at the Cherokee Veterans Memorial Park of those brave Cherokee warriors who gave the ultimate sacrifice in battle, a large crowd gathered to honor them. The Steve Youngdeer American Legion Post 143 hosted its annual Memorial Day Ceremony at the Park on the morning of Monday, May 27.
“They are the fallen, we are grateful for their eternal sacrifice,” Post 143 Commander Lew Harding said during his opening remarks.
Commander Harding said on Memorial Day that unity is important nationwide. “We must seek harder to find common ground and work together as a country, as a Tribe, and as a people. We must not lose our moral compass or disregard the rule of law. These freedoms, for which these brothers and sisters have died, are so meaningful and we must preserve them. Each generation must relearn and re-commit to the foundations of our democracy. This nation was built on the blood, sweat, and tears of Native Americans and many others. We cannot let those sacrifices be in vain. We honor these veterans here today and the fallen heroes of all the conflicts that our country has faced.”
He added, “Today, we honor the men and women who answered the call of our nation. They are our heroes…the families of the fallen, we love you and we honor you. We thank you for every bit of our freedom that we appreciate each and every day.”
During the program, Warren Dupree, Post 143 service officer, read a research piece about the Post’s namesake, Steve Youngdeer. The piece was written by Gary Holt, U.S. Army veteran, and is entitled “Journey of a Young Warrior 1917-18”.
After training at Camp Sevier from September 1917 to May 1918, Private Youngdeer and his fellow troops in the 30th Infantry Division took a 10-day boat transport and landed at Liverpool, England.
“About July 1, 1918, the 30th was ordered to move into Belgium,” Dupree read. “It was assigned to Tunneling Camp for final training in trench warfare and in attacking strong points. This sector was turned over to the 30th Division by the 33rd British Division.”
He continued, “On Aug. 31, 1918, the 119th and 120th Infantry Battalions, along with the 113th and 115th Machine Gun Battalions, engaged the 236th German Division. Steve Youngdeer was noted for volunteering constantly to be one of the first men to go ‘over the top’ and out of the trenches. He was there to take care of business and do his job as an American soldier. On Aug. 1, 1918, Steve Youngdeer suffered a leg wound that would be complicated by pneumonia. He was taken to a field hospital in the British sector called Dirty Bucket Camp near Flanders Field. On Sept. 15, 1918, Private Steve Youngdeer passed away.”
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, gave the keynote address during Monday’s event and said, “It is an honor to be part of a community where so many come out to honor the memory of our fallen veterans who have paid the ultimate price. There are many communities today where there is no ceremony taking place at all. Memorial Day has become a day for cookouts and family gatherings, and while that is appropriate, the purpose of Memorial Day is found in the name.”
Chief Sneed said that on Memorial Day, each year, he reflects on the life of his grandfather Vernon Sneed, a man he never got to meet. He said he has only one photo of his grandfather who was killed during World War II and that photo makes him reflect on the entirety of his family. “I look at that picture, and I wonder what their lives would have been like had he not fallen during that fateful day in Germany. I wonder how my life would have been different had I had the opportunity to know him, and I wonder how our community would have been different had he been a part of it. And then, I reflect upon the big picture – the world stage – and I wonder what humanity had been like if tyranny and despotism would have won out that day during World War II. Fortunately, we only have to imagine what that would be like because of the very sacrifice of Vernon Sneed and countless millions of men and women, just like him, who stood and faced evil head on and paid the ultimate price for the freedom that we enjoy today.”
Following the keynote address, Chief Sneed and Cyndi Lambert, former EBCI First Lady, did the Ringing of the Bell ceremony in honor and memory of the following members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who were killed in action:
World War I: Steve Youngdeer, U.S. Army; Joe Kalonaheskie, U.S. Army
World War II: Boyd Catt, U.S. Army; Jacob Cornsilk, U.S. Army; Adam West Driver, U.S. Marine Corps; James R. Lambert, U.S. Army; Samuel William Otter, U.S. Navy; Blaine Queen, U.S. Army; Mark Rattler, U.S. Marine Corps; Isaac Ross, U.S. Army; Joshua Shell, U.S. Army; Sheridan Smith, U.S. Marine Corps; Vernon George Sneed, U.S. Army; William Taylor, U.S. Navy; Enos Thompson, U.S. Army; Jeremiah Toineeta, U.S. Army; Robert Austin Wahneeta, U.S. Marine Corps
Korea: Charles Arch, U.S. Marine Corps; Charles George, Medal of Honor recipient, U.S. Army
Vietnam: John Burgess, U.S. Army; John Edward Oocumma, U.S. Army
Chief Sneed, Col. John Carter, SFC Clifford Long, and Sgt. Major Frank McRae did the ceremonial laying of the wreath which was followed by the dedication of Operation Flagpole at the Park.
The Operation Flagpole, a project conceived and funded by Cyndi Lambert, involved placing permanent flagpoles for the U.S. and EBCI colors as well as those of all branches of the armed forces including the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine. “We are able to be here today largely in part due to those who are not,” she said. “And, today is a special today to remember those who have died for our freedoms.”
Lambert noted that she formulated the idea for Operation Flagpole during a simple drive by the Park one day when she noticed a general lack of flags. “Each branch of our military have had brave warriors who have been injured or killed, and it’s only fitting each branch is given a prominent recognition in our Veterans Park.”
She said many people were involved in Operation Flagpole, with herself and former Principal Chief Patrick Lambert, a U.S. Army veteran, and she thanked Post 143, notably Commander Harding and Service Officer Dupree, as well as Justin French and the EBCI Facilities Department for their work. “For Patrick and I, this personal contribution is only a small way for us to show our gratitude, love, and appreciation for all of our veterans and honoring those who are injured or gave their lives to protect us and our freedoms. This joint effort just goes to show that working together with friends, neighbors, our local American Legion Post 143, and our community, we can ensure that the sacrifices made by our nation’s finest and bravest never go unappreciated and that their memories are never forgotten.”
Post 143 presented a Certificate of Achievement to both Joaquin Layno and Blake Smith for being named the valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, of the Cherokee High School Class of 2019.
The Post 143 Color Guard rendered honors to the fallen heroes which was followed by the playing of “Taps”.
Phyllis Shell, U.S. Army veteran, sang two songs during Monday’s event including “In Honor of Those Who Served” and “God Bless America”. Taran Swimmer, former Miss Cherokee, opened the event by singing the National Anthems of the United States and the EBCI. Patriotic readings were done by Col. Carter and Dupree, and Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell, U.S. Army veteran, gave the benediction.