By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
The sun shone brightly on the marble stones, bronze plaques, and flags at the Cherokee Veterans Park on the morning of Monday, May 30 as the Steve Youngdeer American Legion Post 143 hosted its annual Memorial Day observance ceremony.
“Some non-veterans don’t really know or appreciate what this day means to most of us,” Post 143 Commander Lew Harding, an elder of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and Vietnam War veteran, said during his opening remarks. “Judging from what Memorial Day is portrayed in the media, you might say they think of it as another day, a shopping day, a day for the beach, a day for the river, a day for the lake. I don’t know about you, but contrary to what most of us believe, this is not a day to honor suckers and losers. This is a day to honor heroes and patriots.”
During his speech, Commander Harding recognized Reuben Taylor, an EBCI tribal elder and decorated World War II veteran, who he called “a tribal hero, a national hero” and “my personal hero”.
Commander Harding went on to speak of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in serving their country. “They gave their all. They gave the future of their family, their children, their entire destiny and they lay to rest 300,000 in Arlington and over 200,000 in Normandy. Those of you who know friends and neighbors who are lounging around the lakes and the rivers and the beach indulging in unappreciative comfort, let me say that pretending to mourn the loss of those who have given so much to honor you, you will never have that privilege. The rest of us stand because we are here today to help attend to the families of the fallen. We love you, we honor you, we are sorry for your pain which will never mitigate and happened for some of you so long ago but it only seems like yesterday.”
He concluded with, “May we never, ever forget.”
Perry Shell, an EBCI tribal elder, U.S. Army veteran, and former Big Cove Representative, spoke and noted, “I don’t know if there are words to describe how special this occasion is where we remember those who were willing to give their all and who gave their all and are buried here on this reservation and across this country.”
Shell added, “Here on the Reservation, we have our people that gave all. They represent a history of sacrifice and a history of service to our people and this country. Even though this isn’t all Cherokee land, this is still our land and we still fight for it and we still love it. We’re proud and we’re happy to have the freedoms that we enjoy. That’s why we’re willing to stand up for it today.”
Later in the ceremony, Shell read a list of names of EBCI tribal members killed in action while his wife, Phyllis Shell, a U.S. Army veteran, rang a bell in their honor.
The list includes:
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 (U.S. Army, Medal of Honor recipient)
Vietnam: John Burgess (U.S. Army), John Edward Oocumma (U.S. Army)
The ceremony concluded with a wreath laying by Ernie Panther, Maj. Vaughn Benner, and Warren Dupree followed by the Post 143 Honor Guard rendering a rifle salute to the fallen.