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Veterans contributions to country highlight BC ceremony

Hollywood Board Rep. Steve Osceola and Master of Ceremonies Junior Battiest and present U.S. Navy veteran Salli Josh with a blanket especially designed and created by Seminole women for the Veterans Day celebration. (Stephanie Rodriguez photo)
Hollywood Board Rep. Steve Osceola and Master of Ceremonies Junior Battiest and present U.S. Navy veteran Salli Josh with a blanket especially designed and created by Seminole women for the Veterans Day celebration. (Stephanie Rodriguez photo)

BIG CYPRESS — The Veterans Day celebration in Big Cypress honored Natives and non-Native veterans Nov. 11. The program featured guest speakers, singer Spencer Battiest and a sermon by Pastor L.W. Howard.

The ceremony started with a march and flag presentation from the Seminole Public Safety Color Guard to honor all those who have served the United States of America; it ended with a moment of silence to remember fallen heroes, especially Lance Cpl. Marine Herman L. Osceola, who died in the line of duty.

The gymnasium, which is named in memory of Lance Cpl. Osceola, was packed with people who recited the pledge of allegiance. Spencer Battiest sang ‘God Bless the USA’ to kick off the day’s observance. Master of Ceremonies Junior Battiest introduced President Mitchell Cypress and Big Cypress Rep. Joe Frank for opening remarks. Battiest described the moment he met his longtime friend Herman Osceola.

“I just knew we were going to be friends,” Junior Battiest said. “He was kind of intimidating at first, but then he welcomed me with open arms into the Tribe. He became my first friend in Big Cypress.”

Junior’s journey as a Choctaw working with the Tribe was one he said he holds dear to his heart. He said he is privileged to have the honor of recognizing veterans.

“I’ve been singing and emceeing for the Tribe for 30 years,” Junior said. “I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to lead the ceremony.”

Specially-made embroidered baseball hats were given to the oldest veterans in the crowd, David Whidden and Ken Fuller, non-Natives who served for the Marine Corps and Navy.

Eight handmade patchwork vests sewn by Seminole women were given out through a raffle drawing to honor male vets. An intricately-designed patchwork blanket was given to Navy veteran Salli Josh, the only woman in attendance who served the armed forces. All Seminole veterans and non-Native veterans lined up side-by-side to receive handshakes from family, friends, and Tribal members as a token of appreciation and respect from all those who haven’t served. President Cypress said the large Veterans Day celebration is the Tribe’s way of educating non-Natives about the Seminoles serving the military.

“We protected our country before Columbus, and we continue to do so today,” President Cypress said. “By having a Veterans Day, we are encouraging the younger generation to serve the country and defend our freedom.”

The Tribe's Princesses -- Kirsten Doney and Thomlynn Billie -- shake hands with veterans during a Veterans Day ceremony in Big Cypress. (Stephanie Rodriguez photo)
The Tribe’s Princesses — Kirsten Doney and Thomlynn Billie — shake hands with veterans during a Veterans Day ceremony in Big Cypress. (Stephanie Rodriguez photo)
Special guest Spencer Battiest sings ‘God Bless the USA’ on Nov. 11 at the Veterans Day celebration in Big Cypress. (Stephanie Rodriguez photo)
Special guest Spencer Battiest sings ‘God Bless the USA’ on Nov. 11 at the Veterans Day celebration in Big Cypress. (Stephanie Rodriguez photo)
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Jr. Miss Florida Seminole Thomlynn Billie, left, and Miss Florida Seminole Kirsten Doney join President Mitchell Cypress at the Veterans Day ceremony in Big Cypress. (Stephanie Rodriguez photo)
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