By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Asst. Editor
CHEROKEE, N.C. – A gentle breeze blew over the Cherokee Veterans Park as over 100 people gathered to honor the brave men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who made the ultimate sacrifice. The Steve Youngdeer American Legion Post 143 held a Memorial Day Ceremony on the morning of Monday, May 29.
Post 143 Commander Lew Harding said in his opening remarks, “Today is Memorial Day, a day to honor all those who have fought and those who have fallen to guarantee our freedom in this, our blessed country. The American Legion honors the commitment, dedication, sacrifice, and service of all the men and women who have served their country and, particularly on this day, we render honors and appreciation and gratitude to those who have lost their lives and paid the ultimate price. We pray for the Gold Star Families, those who are alive and remain, and who have relatives, friends, and loved ones lost in combat.”
“Today, we remember those fallen. They fought for all of us, and they fought more than most of us tend to remember. Through our tears, let us honor and cherish the ideals for which they fought and they died, and resolve, by word and deed, to be appreciative of the values that they demonstrated and the privileges of living in freedom in this wonderful country that is ours in America today.”
Commander Harding added, “There are no suckers and losers lying beneath the earth in Yellowhill or in the North Carolina State Veterans Cemetery, or in Arlington, or in our community cemeteries around the (Qualla) Boundary. They are veterans and American heroes. Thank you for recognizing that and being here today.”
The Ringing of the Bell of Honor & Remembrance Ceremony, dedicated to the members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who were killed in action, was performed by Col. Bob Blankenship, U.S. Army (Ret.), who read the list while Perry Shell, U.S. Army (Ret.), rang the bell in their honor and memory.
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), Clarence Albert Murphy (U.S. Army)
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)
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, gave the keynote address, “I want to thank each and every one of you today for coming out here today to honor our fallen. Today, we stand upon hallowed and sacred ground, the Cherokee Veterans Park. This land was set apart as a permanent reminder, not only for our people, but for the thousands of people who drive by it every day that there is a cost to liberty, that freedom is not free.”
“Upon these pillars of granite are enshrined the names of Cherokee men and women who have served honorably in the Armed Forces of the United States of America alongside the names of those Cherokees who made the ultimate sacrifice. Men like Medal of Honor recipient Charles George; men like Steve Youngdeer, Vernon Sneed, and Samuel Otter – men who died upon the seas and the fields of battle in lands far away.”
He went on to say, “When I think about the bravery of this generation, how so many young men willingly placed their life in danger to defend this nation against all enemies foreign and domestic, I am inspired by their sense of duty and honor. The generations of the past understood how precious and fragile the gift of freedom is and that it must be defended at all costs.”
Chief Sneed said it is important for the country to return to an “ethos of service, sacrifice, duty, honor, and self-control” and noted, “We must know what our values as Americans are, and we must adhere to them.”
“In short, we must live a life worthy of the sacrifices made by the men and women that we stand to honor today. For, if we do not, America, too, will go the way of so many nation states before us and the sacrifice of those we stand to honor today will have been in vain. While we have breath in our lungs, may it never be said of us, or this generation, that it happened on our watch.”
During the ceremony, Commander Harding announced six new inductees into the Post 143 Veterans Memorial Museum Roll of Honor including: EBCI Beloved Man and former Principal Chief Robert S. Youngdeer, U.S. Marine Corps; Col. Bob Blankenship, U.S. Army, Vietnam combat aviator; Ray Kinsland, retired general manager of the Cherokee Boys Club; Ken Blankenship, U.S. Army, Vietnam combat veteran and retired director of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian; Clyde Harrison, U.S. Marine Corps, recipient of the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts; and Reuben Taylor, U.S. Army, World War II veteran who fought at the Battle of the Bulge.
A ceremonial wreath laying was done during the event by Chief Sneed; Col. Blankenship; Maj. Vaughn Benner, U.S. Army; and Wendy Nevarez, U.S. Navy.
Phyllis Shell, U.S. Army veteran, sang two patriotic songs and Warren Dupree and Col. Blankenship read the poems “A Soldier” and “In Flanders Field” respectively. The Post 143 Color Guard posted the colors and rendered honors to the fallen. Maj. Benner provided both the opening prayer and the benediction.