Holiday spotlight shines on Cherokee Nation veterans
Friends and Korean War veterans Jim Quetone, 87, left, and Gene Thompson, 86, talk as door prizes are doled out Dec. 21, 2018, at the Cherokee Nation Veterans Center in Tahlequah. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
World War II veteran Wayne Kellehan, 93, of Claremore, takes part in a Christmas celebration with fellow Cherokee veterans Dec. 21, 2018, in Tahlequah. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Bernie Summerlin, left, and Dorothy Williams play a game during a Dec. 21, 2018, event for military veterans and widows of veterans. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Nearly 50 military veterans, their families and widows of veterans attend a Christmas event held Dec. 21, 2018, at the Cherokee Nation Veterans Center in Tahlequah. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Mary Kay Henderson, Cherokee National Youth Choir director, sings Dec. 21, 2018, during a Christmas celebration for veterans at the Cherokee Nation Veterans Center in Tahlequah. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden speaks to veterans Dec. 21, 2018, at the Veterans Center in Tahlequah. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH — Veterans took center stage Dec. 21, 2018, during a Christmas celebration in their honor.
Nearly 50 veterans, their families and also widows of veterans, attended the Christmas event hosted by the Cherokee Nation’s Office of Veterans Affairs at the Veterans Center. Guests ate, unwrapped gifts, took part in games and were treated to songs from Mary Kay Henderson, the Cherokee National Youth Choir director.
“I think this is great,” World War II Navy veteran Amon Baker said. “Most veterans, I think, appreciate it.”
The 92-year-old former Sequoyah Schools superintendent and Tribal Council member was one of three WWII veterans in attendance. U.S. Navy veteran and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden specifically thanked those “elder veterans in the crowd.”
“The World War II vets, we’re losing our people in drastic numbers,” he said. “Any time we can honor them, I like to do so. Thank you again for all you’ve done. Thank all you veterans and the families of the veterans. They’ve sacrificed, too.”
Wayne Kellehan, 93, another WWII veteran, was seated between Korean War veterans who also happened to be family — brother Sidney Kellehan, 89, and cousin Hosea Wallis, 86.
“We’re losing them all the time, you know,” Kellehan said of his fellow WWII veterans.
Kellehan and his cousin are past Cherokee Warrior Flight passengers. The annual, CN-funded flight to Washington, D.C., gives veterans a chance to visit national war memorials.
The nation estimates there are more than 4,000 Cherokee veterans. Described by Crittenden as “a blessing to all of us,” the celebration site was the $2 million Veterans Center, which opened just east of the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in 2013.
“I like what they do here,” Persian Gulf War veteran David England, 51, said. “It’s just a good place to get together and talk.”
Vietnam veteran and Cherokee Nation citizen Simeon Gipson, 73, of Tahlequah, described himself as a regular at the Veterans Center.
“I come here probably more often than anybody,” he said. “I’m a bicyclist, and I have my coffee and doughnuts here almost every morning.”
Outside of the center, Gipson said, he doesn’t often visit with fellow veterans.
“I don’t have any old friends,” he said. “When I come here, it’s the first time I’m really getting the opportunity to talk with some older people and people from different eras, Desert Storm, Vietnam, World War II and Korea.”
Korean War veteran Jim Quetone, 87, of Tahlequah, also points to the Veterans Center with pride.
“I think it’s great they do all these things for the veterans,” Quetone said. “Everyone can visit and have a place to hang out. It feels great to be a member of the Cherokee Nation, as well as being a veteran.”
The center is currently under the guidance of Barbara Foreman, the director of CN Veterans Affairs.
“(Foreman) and her staff, they continue to do a good job for the veterans,” Crittenden said. “Things have really picked up since they’ve been over here. That’s a good thing for our veterans and our community.”
In May 2018, the Cherokee Nation partnered with the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma for a quarterly mobile food bank for qualified veterans, their families and their widows.
“A lot of you have seen benefits of this partnership,” Foreman told the Dec. 21 crowd. “Some of the food we’re eating tonight is because of our partnership. So, we’re very blessed.”