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Brighton Veterans Day honors Native American military service

Tribal military veterans, including Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr., greet well-wishers at the 29th annual Brighton Veterans Day celebration Nov. 3. (Beverly Bidney photo)
Tribal military veterans, including Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr., greet well-wishers at the 29th annual Brighton Veterans Day celebration Nov. 3. (Beverly Bidney photo)

BRIGHTON — Honoring military service was the focal point of the 29th annual Veterans Day celebration Nov. 3 as the sacrifices made by Native Americans in the U.S. Armed Forces were recognized during a ceremony at the Florida Seminole Veterans Building in Brighton.

“This is an important day and we honor those folks who made America what it is today,” said Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr., U.S. Marine Corps. “We thank those young men and women who are probably sitting on some hill or on top of a building or in a vehicle halfway around the world right now so they can look for those bad folks and take them out before they have a chance to come here.”

The event posthumously honored Sammie Gopher, U.S. Army 1966-68, and Gary Billie, U.S. Army 1972-73. Plaques were presented to their families.

“Vietnam veterans didn’t get a welcome home; we didn’t get a parade,” said Stephen Bowers, U.S. Army. “So we give out shirts and pins commemorating when we left Vietnam in 1975.”

Guest speaker Jay Pfeiffer, U.S. Marine Corps 1965-69, met Bowers, Howard Tommie, Fred Smith and James Billie in 1972 when he was on the staff of the manpower planning council in Tallahassee and worked on Native American workforce issues. He went on to a 40-year career in the Florida Department of Education and now serves on the Florida Governor’s Council for Indian Affairs. He is also a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America and serves on the Board of the American Indian Veterans Memorial, Inc.

“It [military service] was a challenging period of our lives,” Pfeiffer said. “We were young and going away from home for the first time. For many of us, the responsibilities we had were way beyond anything we had before. That can be traumatic when combat is involved.”

He went on to praise the existence of the Brighton veterans building as a place for veterans to gather and talk about their experiences together. He noted most veterans don’t have that opportunity.

“Most people don’t understand that not every veteran did the same thing,” Pfeiffer said. “There are as many jobs to do in military service as there are in civilian life. We all have a common general experience, but the specifics are as diverse as anywhere.”

Prior to Pfeiffer’s speech, Native Voices, from All Family Ministries in Brighton, performed a few hymns in Creek and the audience was welcomed by Miss Florida Seminole Kirsten Doney and Jr. Miss Florida Seminole Thomlynn Billie.

Marc McCabe, regional director of the Vietnam Veterans of America, read the roll of fallen Tribal soldiers and then introduced Tribal veterans, who stood at the front of the room and greeted every person in attendance.

“We need to educate non-Indians about our involvement in conflict from day one when Columbus got here,” said President Mitchell Cypress, U.S. Army veteran. “We protected our land then and we still protect our land.”

 

President and military veteran Mitchell Cypress addresses the audience during Brighton's Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 3. (Beverly Bidney photo)
President and military veteran Mitchell Cypress addresses the audience during Brighton’s Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 3. (Beverly Bidney photo)
Stephen Bowers, at far right, presents a plaque commemorating Sammy Gopher’s military service to his sister Beulah Gopher Nov. 3 during the Brighton Veterans Day event. Also pictured are, from left, Alyxter Loudermilk, Daniel Gopher and Madeline Tongkeamha.(Beverly Bidney photo)
Stephen Bowers, at far right, presents a plaque commemorating Sammy Gopher’s military service to his sister Beulah Gopher Nov. 3 during the Brighton Veterans Day event. Also pictured are, from left, Alyxter Loudermilk, Daniel Gopher and Madeline Tongkeamha.(Beverly Bidney photo)
Charlene Hunsinger accepts a plaque commemorating her father Gary Billie’s military service from Stephen Bowers during the Brighton Veterans Day event Nov. 3. (Beverly Bidney photo)
Charlene Hunsinger accepts a plaque commemorating her father Gary Billie’s military service from Stephen Bowers during the Brighton Veterans Day event Nov. 3. (Beverly Bidney photo)

 

Members of All Family Ministries’ Native Voices perform at the Brighton Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 3. The group consists of Carla Gopher, Nikki Osceola, Mary Jo Micco and Beulah Gopher.(Beverly Bidney photo)
Members of All Family Ministries’ Native Voices perform at the Brighton Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 3. The group consists of Carla Gopher, Nikki Osceola, Mary Jo Micco and Beulah Gopher.(Beverly Bidney photo)
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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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