http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgDwight Birdwell, a two-time Silver Star recipient and Cherokee veteran, speaks at the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame’s Oct. 21 banquet and induction ceremony after being inducted in the OMHOF. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Dwight Birdwell, a two-time Silver Star recipient and Cherokee veteran, speaks at the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame’s Oct. 21 banquet and induction ceremony after being inducted in the OMHOF. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

WE SERVED: Birdwell’s service in Vietnam honored

Cherokee veteran and two-time Silver Star recipient Dwight Birdwell, center, receives a medal signifying his induction into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame. Birdwell also earned two Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam in 1968. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX In 2007, Cherokee veteran Dwight Birdwell, with the help of author Keith William Nolan, told about his military service in Vietnam in the book “A Hundred Miles of Bad Road: An Armored Cavalryman in Vietnam, 1967-68.” COURTESY
Cherokee veteran and two-time Silver Star recipient Dwight Birdwell, center, receives a medal signifying his induction into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame. Birdwell also earned two Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam in 1968. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
11/10/2017 08:00 AM
NORMAN, Okla. – Dwight Birdwell, a native of Bell in Adair County, earned two Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts while serving in Vietnam in 1968.

He was assigned to Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 4th Calvary, 25th Infantry Division. The then-20-year-old Spc. 5 Birdwell was the gunner on a 52-ton M48 Patton tank. He was efficient with the weapons provided to him and used them to save his fellow soldiers in two battles.

For his bravery and service, the former Cherokee Nation Judicial Appeals Tribunal chief justice was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame on Oct. 21. About 50 of his friends and family members attended the ceremony to honor him and 10 other honorees.

“I want to thank the Cherokee Nation and other folks who came from back home, many of whom I’ve known since I was 3 years old, all the way from bean fields, strawberry fields, hay-hauling fields and what have you,” he said after receiving his OMHOF medal. “I must say without hesitation that I want to also remember and honor the 70-something people I served with while I was in Vietnam from (19)67 to (19)68 who were killed in action and did not make it back. Their faces and their memories will forever be in my heart. Thank all of you, again, for this humbling honor. It’s something I will treasure the rest of my days.”

Troop C was responsible for securing the main supply route between Saigon and Tay Ninh in South Vietnam. On Jan. 31, 1968, Birdwell and his unit were outside Saigon at Cu Chi, resting after weeks of field operations. At dawn and without warning, an estimated 70,000 Viet Cong guerillas and North Vietnamese soldiers attacked major cities in South Vietnam. Their main target was Saigon. Another target was the American command center at Tan Son Nhut, southeast of Saigon.

An airbase was also at Tan Son Nhut, which is where Birdwell’s unit, numbering less than 100 men, fought a Vietnamese force numbering approximately 1,000 men.

Troop C moved from Cu Chi to take up positions along Highway 1 on the west side of the airbase, heading off any withdrawing enemy soldiers attacking the base. The column of three M48 tanks and 10 armored personnel carriers or APCs quickly made it to the blacktopped Highway 1.

Unknowingly, the column pulled onto the highway just as the 1,000-man force prepared to attack the air base. As the column passed huts that paralleled the highway to the west, rocket-propelled grenades were fired from the huts knocking out the lead tank and three APCs.

The M48 Patton tank was equipped with a .50-caliber machine gun and a 90mm main gun. Birdwell, the gunner in the second tank, and his commander didn’t immediately realize what had taken place. When the tank commander finally returned fire and shot into the huts, a return barrage of fire seriously wounded him.

Upon realizing his commander was wounded, Birdwell dragged him to safety in the highway’s ditch. Birdwell then climbed on the tank and returned fire with the main gun and the .50-caliber machine gun. RPG rounds were shot at the tank but missed, Birdwell later recalled. His firing kept the enemy at bay and the tank sheltered the more vulnerable APCs behind it.

During the battle’s mayhem, Birdwell realized that no one was firing from the vehicles ahead of him. He also realized that some were on fire and enemy soldiers had clambered atop one of the disabled APCs.

“They were monkeying with the M60s (machine guns),” he recalled. “I couldn’t believe it. I fired on them with the .50-cal., and hit about half of them. The burst really spread them out.”

Birdwell’s tank became the center of Troop C’s survival. Troops who had crawled into the ditch found shelter behind it, and because of his constant machine-gun fire and cannon fire, the enemy couldn’t overrun the column.

“Birdwell was part of that 10 percent that are good soldiers and understands fighting,” Albert Porter, who fought alongside Birdwell that day, said.

Birdwell fired the main gun but eventually used all 64 rounds and all the .50-caliber ammunition.

Troop C eventually received artillery and air support and evacuated the wounded.

For his bravery under fire, Birdwell was awarded the Silver Star.

He received a second one later in 1968 for rescuing fellow soldiers. That incident occurred on July 4 after he had moved up in rank. Now a tank commander, he was at the end of a column of APCs and two other tanks moving through the An Duc village, which was occupied by North Vietnamese Army sympathizers.

Upon entering the village, the column was attacked and had to retreat. After the unit regrouped, it was discovered an APC had been disabled by enemy fire and left in the village along with its crew. Birdwell and his tank crew returned to the village three times to rescue stranded soldiers.

“When no one else wanted the job, I volunteered my tank and crew to go back into the village to rescue the abandoned APC crew members,” Birdwell said.

Birdwell, with the help of author Keith William Nolan, told about his service in Vietnam in the 1997 book, “A Hundred Miles of Bad Road: An Armored Cavalryman in Vietnam, 1967-68.” The book is no longer printed but is available on Amazon.com, Birdwell said.

And he still gets requests to sign his book. “Just about every week, someone contacts me and asks, ‘can I send you the book to sign?’ It’s humbling to do that. I tell them, ‘if I write in your book it’s going to deface it, and it won’t be worth anything.’ That’s, of course, a joke.”

He said he has mixed emotions about writing the book. Looking at it from the standpoint of the men he served with who were killed in combat, he said their families have gained an understanding about the conditions their loved ones served in, sometimes more details about how they died and the “nature of the relationships they had with other members of the unit.”

“It served as a unifying force. For example, there’s a lady in California whose brother was killed in our unit, and now she’s good friends with a lady in New York whose husband also served. It’s been like a spider web for making good connections,” Birdwell said. “On the other hand, I sometimes feel bad about some of the stories about how people died. You kind of hate for a brother or sister to learn what really happened or maybe how horrible the event was, so I have some doubts on that, but otherwise, overall, I’m glad I wrote the book.”

Birdwell was honorably discharged in December 1968 after serving nearly three years in the Army. He was also awarded a Bronze Star, for meritorious service. He said, since his service, he has joined a Veterans of Foreign Wars group in Wauseon, Ohio, because a friend of his from there “insisted” he join. He’s also a member of the 25th Infantry Division Association and the 3-4 Cavalry Association.

He served on the tribe’s JAT, now the Supreme Court, from 1987-99 and served as chief justice in 1995-96 and 1998-99. At 69, he still practices law in Oklahoma City and plans to continue.

“You know a lot of lawyers work until they die. I suspect that’s what I’m going to do. If I didn’t do that, I’d like to be at Bell. I’d like to be living at Bell,” he said. “There’s nothing like waking up in the morning at Bell and walking out barefooted and getting dew between your toes, smelling that hickory smoke and maybe some fresh coffee. We used to hear the canning factory whistle. I’m sure that’s long gone. During the night we could hear the KCS (Kansas City Southern train) all the way to Bell. What a sweet sound, and hearing owls during the night and maybe a coyote or wolf. There’s nothing like living at Bell, in my opinion.”
About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life.
He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life. He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association. Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.

People

BY LINDSEY BARK
Reporter
02/22/2018 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH – For the past 15 years, Cherokee Nation citizen Janice Dreadfulwater has been perfecting the craft of loom weaving that she learned from her sister-in-law and Cherokee National Treasure, Dorothy Dreadfulwater Ice. Since she was 5 years old, Dreadfulwater said she’s always “dabbled” in some type of craftsmanship. “I was sewing when I was like 5 years (old), making doll clothes. My first (craft) was sewing. Then I went over to crochet and cross-stitch. I’ve done some silversmithing, and I’ve done some beadwork. You know, I’ve dabbled in a lot of areas,” Dreadfulwater said. Once she learned how to loom weave, she said she thoroughly enjoyed it. “My first attempt was awkward, of course. But once I got the hang of it, it started going really fast,” she said. “It was just addictive.” In a two-month span, she said she made approximately 20 loom-woven blankets. Aside from making blankets, she makes scarves and shawls, but blankets are her specialty. To loom weave, Dreadfulwater said she uses Ice’s loom. However, she’s making her own loom. “One of my projects is to get my big loom together and hopefully have a place that I can put it. You’ve got to have the space in order to do it,” she said. “I’m in the process of putting one together. I’ve got the frame made, but as far as the hardware, that’s hard to locate for a larger loom.” She said loom weaving one quilt can take anywhere from a day to a day and a half. “It takes (time) to get it all set up to start weaving, which I don’t like that part, but it’s necessary. The fun part is actually weaving.” Dreadfulwater said she uses diamond, herringbone and non-traditional patterns in her work and different-sized yarn. She also said she’s never marketed her creations and has only sold one blanket. She said she mostly makes them for “enjoyment.” “I’m proud to carry on the traditions that the Cherokee people have established and to be creative,” she said. “I just hope that whoever receives the blanket respects what labor of love that went into the project.” Her donation to the Phoenix is a blanket with a diamond pattern. The drawing will be held April 2. For every $10 spent on elder fund donations, subscriptions or merchandise, one entry is entered in the quarterly giveaway drawing. For more information, call Justin Smith at 918-207-4975 or email justin-smith@cherokee.org, or Samantha Cochran at 918-207-3825 or email <a href="mailto: samantha-cochran@cherokee.org">samantha-cochran@cherokee.org</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
02/11/2018 02:00 PM
WEST SILOAM – Tulsa resident Elizabeth “Beth” West manages an hour and a half commute to Cherokee Casino West Siloam Springs each workday but still makes time to give back to her community. The YMCA of Greater Tulsa recently awarded West with an award for her dedication to the organization. “I started off as a contributor but quickly realized that I wanted to do more to help children and families in my community,” West, a food and beverage manager at Cherokee Casino & Hotel West Siloam Springs and Cherokee Nation citizen, said. “The Y helps people in the community in so many different aspects, from early education and after school programs to families affected by cancer.” West is originally from Colcord, where she graduated high school. She received a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma State University in 2008. She then started her career at Cherokee Casino & Hotel West Siloam Springs, accepting positions at various Cherokee Casinos through the years, including Cherokee Casino Ramona, Cherokee Casino South Coffeyville and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. “Beth has been an asset to our department since returning to the property in 2015,” Don McClellan, property director of food and beverage at Cherokee Casino & Hotel West Siloam Springs, said. “She explains to newly hired employees that she started here in 2008, and that if they want additional responsibilities and to be able to be promoted, the opportunities are available. It has been a pleasure working with Beth and watching her navigate her career path. We are very proud of her dedicated work in the community.” West began supporting the YMCA of Greater Tulsa as a donor but quickly grew into the role of campaigner by helping to raise awareness of the organization’s cause and by finding those willing to help support. West was honored as the 2017 Goal Buster Campaigner of the Year for the YMCA Community Services Campaign. The annual campaign unites volunteers, donors and participants to build upon the strengths of each individual in our community. Financial assistance is made available from the annual support campaign to any individual or family who wants to participate in YMCA programs or activities but may not be able to afford the fee. “As we move into our 2018 campaign season, we are thankful to have Beth’s big heart and passion for change. Our community services goal this year is $15,000, and we are confident the funds will be raised to ensure programs continue to be available to those who need them most,” Emma Sikich, senior director for community initiatives at YMCA of Greater Tulsa, said. “Beth is a great example of someone who works hard, plays hard, but gives more. She is a key player in ensuring the YMCA’s Community Services campaign is a success,” Sikich said. The staff at YMCA of Greater Tulsa is passionate about making a difference in their communities and bettering the lives of the people around them, and that has inspired West and the other 16 campaigners to do more. “I feel it’s my responsibility to ensure that others are afforded chances and opportunities to do more, to grow and learn, to be everything they hope,” West said. “Strength of character comes from helping people succeed, not in holding anyone down.” For more information about YMCA of Greater Tulsa, visit <a href="http://www.ymcatulsa.org" target="_blank">www.ymcatulsa.org</a>.
BY KENLEA HENSON
Reporter
01/25/2018 08:00 AM
FAYETTVILLE, Ark. – When 15-year-old Gaby Nagel isn’t listening to music she is playing it, particularly on the Native American flute. Her enjoyment and talent with the instrument has led her to playing numerous events and partaking in flute competitions. Nagel, an Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian citizen, has been playing the flute for five years. She was introduced to it while walking Fayetteville Square and coming across a man playing one. Listening to him play, she said she became mesmerized. Her mother bought her a flute and she began taking lessons from the same man, Jerry Doubting. She said the flute just came “natural” to her. “A lot of the tricks it took him years to learn, all came natural to me. He would be sitting there and telling me about a technique, and he would say ‘it’s OK, don’t get frustrated if you don’t get it on the first try.’ Well, I would get it on the first try,” she said. Nagel has competed in eight flute competitions of all sizes. However, she said the biggest competition she’s won was the Musical Echo’s in Florida. “I was the first female and youngest competitor to ever win. I got a blue ribbon from them and a check. It was really cool.” In addition to competitions, she’s played at festivals and events such as Indigenous Peoples Day in Fayetteville and the annual Trail of Tears Association Conference this past October in Pocola, Oklahoma. She’s also been invited to play for senior citizens and children at schools to interact with them and share Native culture. She said her most memorable performance was getting playing for a young girl who was battling cancer. “I played for a girl who had cancer in Chattanooga (Tennessee). She was a friend of a flute maker of mine, and we raised money for her to receive treatment. It was such an honor, especially because they invited me.” To be able to travel different places, she said she is thankful for having supportive family and friends, especially her mother. “My mom is my number one. She has driven me around so many miles I can’t even count. She is my number one, and she has always got my back.” Nagel said she is proud to be Cherokee and shares her heritage through the flute. She said her plans for 2018 are to travel more playing the flute and visit more elderly and hospice patients. She said she’s also been learning to play the piano and guitar. “Playing the flute, I feel like I am honoring my ancestors and what they had to go through so we don’t get hated on for being Native American as much anymore,” she said.
BY KENLEA HENSON
Reporter
01/24/2018 08:15 AM
COLLINSVILLE – Since age 5, Cherokee Nation citizen Trett Charles has had dreams of singing and playing guitar. Today, the 23-year-old opens for some of the most popular names in Red Dirt music, including Stoney LaRue, whom he opened for on Jan. 20 at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa. Coming from a country music-loving family, Charles learned to play guitar from his great-grandpa. With the help of his uncles he started to grow vocally, too. Charles said his family listened to country music artists such as George Strait, Merle Haggard and Keith Whitley, who influenced him to choose the Red Dirt genre. “The way I look at Red Dirt music nowadays is it’s pure country to me. I am not the type of person that is big about national music. I like the (19)90s country feel because that just the genre I grew listening to,” he said. At age 21, he played his first gig at the Hall of Fame in Catoosa. Since then he’s played venues in Tulsa, across Oklahoma and in surrounding states. He’s also opened for Red Dirt artists Thompson Square, Bart Crow Band, Casey James, Read Southall Band and Jason Boland and the Stragglers. Charles said getting the opportunity to play various places and open for artists has been a blessing and great accomplishment. However, along with accomplishments he also had to overcome struggles. In April, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and spent seven months in chemotherapy. He said taking that in was hard. And even though he couldn’t play shows as much, he said he pushed himself to continue as much as he could. During his treatments he played the Cain’s Ballroom for the first time. “When you’re 22 years old and you’re told you have cancer, and you don’t know if you are going to live or die, at first you don’t really know how to accept that. But the biggest thing that helped me push through it is that I am a big believer in God, and I believe he heals. So when I felt good enough to play a show I would push myself to basically get out there. It was really cool to play at Cain’s for the first time even during the time I was going through chemo because the opportunity was a blessing that also kept me going,” Charles said. Now cancer free, he played at the Cain’s Ballroom for the second time opening for one of his longtime heroes, Stoney LaRue. “I seen Stoney multiple times at Cain’s, so the fact that I am even getting to open for Stoney, it’s an incredible feeling because a lot of people don’t get that opportunity,” he said. Although Charles has only been on the Red Dirt music scene a couple of years, he continues to make a name for himself. He said his goals are to travel and play his music for the world. But he also hopes his music will “touch” someone. “A song can turn your whole day around. My goal is to share the music that I write with people and hope that the music I share touches them in some way,” he said. For more information, follow the Trett Charles Band on Facebook.
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/12/2018 12:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY – AARP Oklahoma is accepting nominations for its 10th annual Indian Elder Honors to celebrate 50 Native American elders who have positively impacted their respective communities, families, tribes and nation. Since its inception in 2009, AARP Oklahoma has recognized 450 elders from all 39 tribal nations in Oklahoma. “The AARP Indian Elder Honors recognizes the extraordinary contribution of Indian elders – many of whom have never been recognized before,” AARP Oklahoma Volunteer State President Joe Ann Vermillion said. The 2017 honorees from 33 Oklahoma tribal nations included teachers, veterans, nurses, artists, tribal leaders, language and culture preservationists, champion archer and champion arm wrestler. Cherokee Nation citizens Mary Rector Aitson, Dianne Barker Harrold, Marcella Morton and Joe T. Thornton, as well as United Keetoowah Band citizen Woody Hansen, were honored in 2017 and presented medallions by national and state AARP officials. “This event celebrates a lifetime of service from these distinguished elders,” AARP State Director Sean Voskuhl said. “The common thread between the honorees, regardless of the contribution, is the commitment to community and service.” This year’s Indian Elder Honors will be held Oct. 2 in Oklahoma City. Nomination applications are available at <a href="https://www.aarp.org/states/ok/stateeventdetails.eventId=671063&stateCode=OK/" target="_blank">https://www.aarp.org/states/ok/stateeventdetails.eventId=671063&stateCode=OK/</a>. Nominations may be submitted electronically or mailed to AARP Oklahoma, 126 N. Bryant, Edmond, OK, 73034. Nominees must be enrolled citizens of federally recognized Oklahoma tribal nations, at least 50 years old and be living. Nominees do not have to be AARP members. For more information, call Mashell Sourjohn at 405-715-4474 or email msourjohn@aarp.org. The deadline for submitting nominations is April 30.
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Reporter – @cp_bbennett
01/09/2018 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH – When shooters took the line for an Oklahoma Archery Shooters Association qualifier recently at Obsession Archery, Cherokee Nation citizen Michael Lackey was among them despite being in a wheelchair. “I didn’t get to play regular sports like kids that were not in a wheelchair, so my dad got me into archery and I started doing that,” Lackey said. “I’ve been shooting bows since I was about 12 or 13 years old.” Lackey joined 64 archers competing for bragging rights and prize money at the Dec. 17 qualifier. Shooters received four minutes to shoot five arrows at a five-spot target through 12 ends, or rounds, for a total of 60 arrows. Each arrow had the potential to earn up to five points depending on its target placement. Lackey shot with the compound bow he uses when hunting. “The compound is definitely easier from a wheelchair standpoint, in my opinion, because I shoot the recurve also and they’re a lot longer than your compounds. So a string will hit the wheel sometimes or you’re closer to the ground, so the limbs will hit the ground. The compound is definitely easier to shoot from a wheelchair.” Although paralyzed most of his life, Lackey said he doesn’t believe in limits. He’s an avid outdoorsman who often hunts, a skill honed by competitive archery. “It’s really helped my shooting, getting back into the target shooting,” he said. “It’s made me more consistent for hunting. I like the competition, and I like to improve myself.” The competition marked Obsession Archery’s first time hosting a qualifier for the ASA, which aims to grow archery through clubs that provide competition, training and education opportunities. It’s a development Lackey said he appreciates. “It’s harder on people who don’t have the funding to drive clear across the state to shoots. So it’s nice to have somewhere where we can do it here in town, in Tahlequah.” Obsession Archery owner John Obenrader called the development a “big deal” for his business and customers. “ASA is the main organization that I shoot for. It’s one of the biggest ones in the country. It’s where all your top archers are and at the state level. They hold championships and qualifiers all across the state. They just came to me and asked me if I wanted to shoot since I have a shop with an indoor range.” Obenrader said he hopes the competition brings in new shooters and their families to get them familiar with indoor and 3-D range shoots. “It’s pretty much a family-oriented kind of sport because a lot of times you’ll see the kids get started in it, and then mom and dad get started in it because they want to do it.” For Lackey, the qualifier was a family affair as both his children competed in the cub class. “My daughter Makayla, she’s been shooting for two or three years now. Hayden just got his first compound bow this year,” he said. “They’re both shooting really well. It’s good for them. It teaches them discipline, practicing. You got to be good to make a shot on a deer. You want to deer hunt, you got to practice and get good at shooting.” In addition to passing his archery passion onto his children, Lackey hopes to see archery grow among others in wheelchairs. “I don’t see it quite as much as I would like to see,” he said. “It’s a big challenge from sitting in a wheelchair, but I do know a lot of guys that hunt (and compete). It just takes lots of practice because I have to, I don’t have a lot of balance, so I have to kind of position myself where I can maintain my balance while I’m shooting my bow.” For more information, call Obsession Archery at 918-951-9540.