Every year, people around the U.S. gather on Nov. 11 to honor and celebrate the veterans of the U.S. military. The federal holiday was originally celebrated as Armistice Day and was created by President Woodrow Wilson on Nov. 11, 1919. Now, 98 years later, the Tribe continues to join in on the celebration and honor all veterans – both Tribal and non-Tribal – who served the country.
Veteran’s Day made its way to Brighton a few days early. The community gathered Nov. 2 to honor
Tribal and non-Tribal veterans, as well as remember those veterans who have passed.
During the 30th Annual Seminole Veterans Celebration and Recognition, President Mitchell Cypress and Brighton Board Rep. Larry Howard commemorated 78 veterans, both living and deceased. Among those who served includes Brighton Council Rep. Andrew J. Bowers Jr. (U.S. Marine Corp), Stephen D. Bowers (U.S. Army), and President Mitchell Cypress (U.S. Army and National Guard).
“Thank you to all the past and present military [men and women]. Without you guys, opportunity wouldn’t be what it is today,” Howard said. “I just wanted to let you all know that you make this world a better place.”
Joining in the praise for the veterans were Miss and Junior Miss Florida Seminoles Randee Osceola and Kailani Osceola, respectively, as well as actress and singer Chris Noel, a popular entertainer for troops during the Vietnam War.
Noel described herself as an “old-fashioned patriot” who has worked to help veterans since the 1950s.
“They tell me patriotism is out of style, but not for me, not ever. This is my country. It made me who I am and what I am. Nothing I do can ever pay back what is given to me,” she said.
A large reason for her devotion to the U.S. is a trip she took to Vietnam during the war when the Pentagon asked her to volunteer to help and entertain the troops.
“I sang at landing zones, fire bases, hospitals. I was mortared, caught in sniper fire, crashed into rice fields, and walked through Agent Orange with the troops,” she said. “But the greatest compliment I ever got came in 1967 when the North Vietnamese army decided they wanted me dead or alive. They put a bounty on my head for $10,000.”
Despite the trauma she experienced overseas, she explained that is nothing in comparison to what U.S. veterans encounter every day.
“Every day, 22 veterans take their lives. War is hell to veterans,” she said. “For them, every chapter in the history of war is written in blood and burned into their souls. They remember every day, every night, sometimes in dreams and sometimes in nightmares.”
Two Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School students, eighth-grader Karey Gopher and seventh-grader Pearcetin Trammell, may not have experience similar to that of veterans, but they showed their appreciation for their daily sacrifices and struggles through Veterans Day speeches they submitted to their class. To Kerri, Veteran’s Day is more than just a federal holiday and a day off from school.
“To me, Veterans Day is not only a day where we all take the time to show appreciation to those who have risked their lives for yours and my freedom, but also remembering those who lost their lives,” she expressed. “Without those people, we wouldn’t have the freedom we have today.”
Trammel expressed similar feelings, saying that veterans are not just strangers doing a job.
“When I hear the word veteran, I don’t think about strangers who were in the military, I think of heroes and acts of courage and bravery,” she said. “I think of people who never thought twice about what they were doing and they never complained; the only thing they think about is protecting our country.”
Following catered lunch, the event concluded with the Florida Seminole Veterans Foundation’s second annual flag retirement ceremony. Guests gathered to formally retire worn Seminole and American flags. The formal retirement can only be done when the flags become worn, faded, torn or soiled. For the American flag, each stripe and was separated, as well as the blue field with the 50 stars. Veterans and their families each took individual sections and said prayers over each piece before tossing them into a fire.
The celebration continued in Big Cypress the day of the national holiday, Nov. 11 at the Herman L. Osceola gym.
Along with remarks by President Mitchell Cypress and Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank, the crowd also enjoyed special presentations by Ahfachkee students Emma DiCarlo, fifth grade, Thelma Tigertail, third grade, Alex Covarrubias, fifth grade, and Sarah Robbins, sixth grade, who led the Pledge of Allegiance. Eighth-grader Lauren Doctor also performed, singing the Star Spangled Banner for the crowd of at least 100.
Rep. Frank said that Veteran’s Day is significant to him because the Seminole Wars started 200 years ago and it is the Seminole warriors who fought during that war that kept the Tribe free.
“This shows how far we as a Seminole people have come,” he said, explaining that as wars continue, it is up to all of the U.S. to make sure all present and future service men and women are taken care of. “We need to work together to ensure that all returning warriors have access to dependable education on mental health and make a clean readjustment to normal civilian life in our country.”
Making a guest appearance at the celebration was Boye Ladd, Sr., a Vietnam War veteran and member of the Ho Chunk and Zuni tribes. While thanking veterans and welcoming them home was a focus of his speech, he also used his time to address issues in Indian Country and with the treatment of veterans when they return home.
“Without our veterans, we simply wouldn’t have our way of life. … It’s not necessarily that veterans believe in war; it’s an opportunity to instill our traditions, our cultures, our rights and our way of life,” he said, going on to explain how many veterans, including himself, fight during wars for freedom for their loved ones, regardless of the sacrifices that entails. For Ladde, that sacrifice includes ailments from exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
“A lot of the warriors here know it [the side effects from Agent Orange] takes about 20 years to begin,” he said. “I lost my eyesight and my hearing.”
Even with those sacrifices, he said it’s crucial for people to understand that even though every person and culture is different, unifying will prove more successful than fighting.
“We are all Native Americans. No two of us are the same, even clan wise, but we all need to have a certain understanding that we’re all unique,” he explained. “If all the nations could come together as one, we will be a nation of everyone. We all fight under the same flag.”
After a reciting of the poem “Flag of Our Fathers,” written by Moses Jumper, the celebration concluded with guests thanking the dozens of veterans in attendance.
U.S. Marine Corp veteran Moses Osceola encouraged guests to keep service members in their prayers and continue thanking them for their service.
“They’ve done a lot for us and our nation,” he said. “If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have the freedoms we enjoy today.”
Army veteran Rod Steele joined in that sentiment, but also took time to commemorate the Tribe for its ongoing perseverance and dedication to the country throughout history.
“I served in a non-combat capacity, but I also witnessed and observed an awful lot the year that I was there. I give the highest tribute to the warriors who were there,” said Ronald Still, a Vietnam War veteran. “You [The Seminoles] have a wonderful story and I think the story and the spirituality and the history should be understood by all Americans. I think it would help the USA
immeasurably in this time to understand much more about your culture and your sacrifices. It really is a wonderful story and the progress of the Seminole Tribe in particular should be revered by all Americans.”