Plans progressing for Cherokee Nation Veterans Cemetery
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. unveils renderings for a planned veterans’ cemetery Nov. 8 during the tribe’s Veterans Day ceremony in Tahlequah. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Renderings of a planned Cherokee Nation Veterans Cemetery were unveiled to veterans Nov. 8 during the tribe’s Veterans Day ceremony in Tahlequah. COURTESY
Cherokee Nation citizen and veteran Bill Horton, center, and others stand for ceremonies at the CN Veterans Center during a reception in their honor on Nov. 8. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – As Veterans Day neared, plans for a Cherokee Nation Veterans Cemetery were unveiled to a crowd filled with “Cherokee Warriors.”
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. revealed to those attending the tribe’s annual Veterans Day reception that initial cemetery plans were approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We have identified four potential locations for the first Cherokee Nation Veterans Cemetery,” Hoskin said Nov. 8, adding that construction would begin next year. “As 2020 unfolds, we will talk more about the location for this new piece of solemn ground. We will talk about the process by which a veteran’s family can apply to have their loved one buried here.”
Hoskin said the site would be the state’s second Native American veterans cemetery.
“We will do it right. We will do it with dignity,” he said. “We will involve our veterans, and we will, of course, do it under the watchful eye of (CN Secretary of Veterans Affairs S. Joe Crittenden), for which this project is a great passion.”
Artist renderings displayed for the crowd showed a building and design plans for the cemetery grounds.
“This sounds like an excellent idea,” CN citizen and U.S. Army veteran David Hall, of Wister, said. “We were going to be interred at Fort Gibson, the national cemetery there. But if they’re going to have one here, I’ll change plans.”
Chief of Staff Todd Enlow said, “At this point, it’s conceptual renderings of what it will look like.”
“We’re in that design-planning stage,” he added.
The Tribal Council, Enlow said, will be tasked with future cemetery decision-making. In June, it agreed to apply for federal funding to cover costs associated with design and planning of the cemetery.
Councilors amended the initial resolution to include only “Cherokee veterans,” a move Barbara Foreman, CN Veterans Affairs director, told them would likely lessen the tribe’s chance to receive a portion of the $45 million available in grant funding.
Tribal officials said the cemetery initiative began under the leadership of Hoskin’s predecessor, former Principal Chief Bill John Baker, who also attended the annual veterans’ event held inside the Cherokee Veterans Center.
“The Cherokee Nation Veterans Center is a home for all of you,” Crittenden told those in attendance. “It’s important to the Cherokee Nation to honor our warriors.”
Among those in attendance were Hall and fellow Army veteran Sam Carey, of Hulbert. Both recently visited Washington, D.C., as part of the tribe’s Cherokee Warrior Flight.
“I think it’s extraordinarily awesome the way they treat their veterans,” Hall said. “I’ve never had an experience like this. I’ve been more or less forgotten except by the tribe.”
Carey, of Hulbert, served in the Army from 1972-75, in the National Guard from 1983-95, then in the U.S. Army Reserves from 1995-2001. Hall, 67, was drafted into the military after high school in the early 1970s.
“I spent four years there, got out and went back into the Army Reserves,” he said. “I finished up my career that way. So I’ve got Vietnam, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Somalia, Bosnia and the last was in 2003, which was Iraqi Freedom. I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d do it all again.”
U.S. Air Force veteran Phillip McIntosh, of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, also lauded the CN’s dedication to military veterans.
“This organization here does a good job, not just during Veterans Day but throughout the year,” he said.
McIntosh retired nearly three decades ago from a long military career. He began his service in 1971.
“I was in for 21 years and 22 days,” he recalled. “Thirteen-and-a-half was overseas and the rest of it was in the states. I was in the munitions field. I built bombs, stored bombs, you name it.”