By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Asst. Editor
CHEROKEE, N.C. – On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the Steve Youngdeer American Legion Post 143 held an event honoring veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. The event, held at Post 143 headquarters in Cherokee, N.C., was dedicated to Col. Bob Blankenshp (Ret.), an elder of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) who was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam earning a Bronze Star and 17 Air Medals among other decorations. He also served the EBCI for years as Tribal Council Chairman and Yellowhill Representative.
Lew Harding, an EBCI tribal elder and Post 143 commander, opened Saturday’s event stating, “Welcome to this celebration of Veterans Day here in Cherokee to honor all our fallen brothers and sisters and those that remain with us still. It’s a privilege to be part of this program each year. Your being here acknowledges how you feel about the sacrifices that they made for us, all of us. Many of you here under this tent fall in that category. Thank you. God bless you. And welcome.”
He spoke of Col. Blakenship stating, “This ceremony day is dedicated to my friend and mentor and hero, Col. Bob Blankenship sitting here on the first row…he’s an old soldier, but he’s a very good one. Welcome, brother, we love you. Thank you.”
Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell, a U.S. Army veteran, said during Saturday’s event, “This Veterans Day ceremony is dedicated to and in honor of Col. Bob Blankenship and all American veterans, living and fallen, and especially to the fallen warriors of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and to their community, state, and nation. They served their families, their loved ones, and their nation with dignity and honor. They made a profound difference in the lives of our people and the history of our people. The memories of these beloved veterans is always in our hearts. We will never forget their love and sacrifice. They were an inspiration to us all and for their efforts, we are eternally grateful.”
Later in the program. Rep. Shell read a patriotic poem entitled “Freedom is Not Free” by Kelly Strong.
Several awards were given during the event. Josh Taylor, a U.S. Air Force veteran who serves as the Cherokee Indian Police Dept. Asst. Chief of Police, was awarded the American Legion Distinguished Achievement Award.
Of Taylor, Commander Harding said, “Each year, we are privileged to make award presentations to members of our community and the veterans group who have served over and above the call of duty in the previous years and have distinguished themselves in service to their community and, many times, community, state, and nation.”
“One of those is here with us today and we’ve decided to make a special presentation to this talented brother. An award for distinguished achievement, not only here in Cherokee, but in the United States Air Force in the years before he got to us. I took the privilege of reading his service record – it’s exemplary. Now we have him here and we’re grateful for the distinguished achievement in the Cherokee Police Department.”
Commander Harding read the award citation, which stated in part, “For extraordinary service to the people and outstanding leadership in your military service years in the United States Air Force, we honor you. Your hard work, courageous decisions, wisdom, and guidance has been critical to the success of our Tribe and to the success of your military command. The professional excellence that you have consistently demonstrated is a source of pride to all of us.”
Upon receiving the award, Taylor commented, “My family is the best thing for me. God has given me a family that has been so amazing, but he has also given me a community. I look throughout the people standing here and I see warriors, and that’s our culture. I’m one of the few people that were in the military that was able to say, ‘that’s my culture, being a warrior’. I’m very humbled today because I see so many people standing out here that do so much more. Please know that I’m very thankful for this and I’m very thankful for letting me still serve the community.”
In speaking about his fellow veterans and public service workers, he noted, “Take time and get to thank them and love them because they’ve been put in some of the hardest situations that you ever, ever could imagine.”
Several members of Post 143 were selected as Legionnaires of the Year. Gerard Ball (U.S. Army), Charles McCullough (U.S. Army), Jeff Marcum (U.S. Navy), and Gregory Hunt (U.S. Marine Corps) were present to receive the award. Several Post 143 members received the award but were unable to attend as they were representing the Post at an event at the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, N.C. including: Jimmy Arch (U.S. Army), Doug Swayney (U.S. Army), and Warren Dupree (U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard).
Commander Harding recognized the service of Post 143 members, “The Steve Youngdeer Post is one of the exemplary posts, not only in the state but in the country, and recognized as such by our state and national leaders. We thank the Tribe and the people who have entrusted this building to us to allow us to do what we do.”
He then asked all veterans present to stand and be recognized. “Ladies and gentlemen, these are the ones who have stood for us for so many years.”
Special American Legion Certificates of Achievement were awarded to the Cherokee Indian Police Dept., Cherokee Fire Dept., and the Cherokee Emergency Medical Services program.
In a special presentation, Cyndi Lambert, former EBCI First Lady, gave the Legion of Love Award to the Sampson Family in honor of the loving memory and courage of their late daughter, Aniyah Sampson.
At the end of the event, Marcum, McCullough, and Col. Blankenship placed the Wreath of Honor and Remembrance for fallen service personnel. This was followed by a salute to the fallen comrades by the Post 143 Honor Guard.
McCullough, Post 143 chaplain closed the event with a benediction.