Council approves $1 million budget for Veterans Cemetery

by Sep 1, 2022NEWS ka-no-he-da0 comments


One Feather Staff


The memory of two Cherokee heroes will forever endure at a cemetery bearing their name which is currently being developed by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI).  A dedication ceremony was held in March for the Burgess-Oocumma Veterans Memorial Cemetery, and now Tribal Council has approved funding for the project which is being spearheaded by the Steve Youngdeer American Legion Post 143.

Council passed unanimously Res. No. 395 (2022), submitted by Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe on behalf of Post 143, during its regular session on Thursday, Sept. 1 which approves a one-time donation up to $1,000,000 from the EBCI Endowment No. 2 “to assist with the development, design, and construction costs” for the project.

Lew Harding, Commander of the Steve Youngdeer American Legion Post 143, salutes the flag during the National Anthem which was played during a dedication ceremony for the Burgess-Oocumma Veteran’s Memorial Cemetery, located in the Wolftown Community, on the morning of Tuesday, March 29. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather photo)

The cemetery is named for Sgt. John Burgess, a soldier with the 9th Infantry Division who was killed in action on April 18, 1969, and PFC John Edward Oocumma, a soldier with the 4th Infantry Division who was killed in action on Feb. 16, 1967.  Both were EBCI tribal members.

“This project is dear to our hearts,” Sam Lambert, a member of Post 143, told Council on Thursday.  “We think a whole lot about veterans who have gone on before us.  We need a place of honor for these veterans, and we’ve worked really hard to get this cemetery to where it is now.”

EBCI Secretary of Treasury Cory Blankenship spoke to the funding of the project stating, “This project was originally contemplated as part of a federal grant program, and we’ve missed deadlines.  We’ve had miscommunications about the grant.  So, we have had conversations with the Legion (Post 143) and (EBCI) Project Management and said, ‘let’s just move forward with tribal dollars’.  I think it is best to move forward with tribal dollars.  The Legion already has a work group to vet the projects.  Our office would be responsible for processing the invoices in accordance to the Tribe’s Fiscal Management Policy.”

He added, “I’m very comfortable with where we are today.  I think this project is long overdue.  We’ve talked about it since I’ve been in Finance.  So, we just need to move forward with it.  The amount was up to $1 million.  I don’t know that it will require the entire million dollars to accomplish what the Legion has envisioned for the property, but I think we have an appropriate level of controls in place to deliver a project.”

Warren Dupree, Post 143 service officer, commented, “Thank you very much.  Please rest assured that we, the veteran community, the Steve Youngdeer Post, will manage this whole development of our new Veteran’s Cemetery and our existing one as we would in the military.  Everything will be dress, right, dress and accurately done – open transparency, everything will be available for scrutiny at any time.  The recordkeeping will be perfect, absolutely.”

Cherokee Co. – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha, a U.S. Army veteran, said he is glad the project is underway.  “I want to make sure, whether through Project Management or through another department that either helps, assists, or facilitates, that this cemetery is truly an honor because look at the names that are going to be added to it.  I know you all will do anything within your power to make sure it is going to be the best around.  I just want to make sure that we do our part as a government to make sure that you all are assisted in a proper way to make sure that everything falls in line.”

For his service, Sgt. Burgess, whose name appears on panel W27, Line 105 of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., received the Silver Star with one oak leaf cluster, Bronze Star with two oak leaf clusters, Purple Heart, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.  PFC Oocumma, whose name appears on Panel 15E, Line 49, received the Silver Star, Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.