BIG CYPRESS — Three generations of courage root the Josh family tree in military service.
Pvt. Coleman Josh, 19, currently serves in the Army reserves; his mother, Sallie Josh, 48, is retired Navy who spent 14 years as a corpsman attached to the Marines; and his grandfather Coleman Josh, 78, served in Vietnam during two stints in the Army from 1962 to 1968.
“I’m just always thankful that we have been able to serve. Today, I am very proud of my grandson and all of the Seminole veterans,” the elder Josh said.
The Josh family gathered with nearly 100 guests and other veterans Nov. 11 at Herman L. Osceola Gymnasium in Big Cypress for lunch, gifts and accolades during the third annual Veterans Day Celebration.
“This is a special day for all of Native Americans to recognize our warriors. Our ancestors were used to going to battle for ourselves against the invaders of our land,” said Moses Jumper Jr., master of ceremonies for the nearly three-hour event.
Jumper also acknowledged men and women of all races who come together in times of war and peace for the common defense of the United States. In words from his poem “What Veterans Day Means to Me,” Jumper tied all of humanity into that brotherhood.
“This day reminds me of all the blood that has been shed. On the field of battle there is no color of skin for every warrior’s blood is red,” Jumper read. “…We honor you, the vets, for what you have given for us all. You have answered bravely to this country’s call.”
Army veteran Stephen Bowers, president of American Indian Veterans Memorial Inc., said the Tribe has sanctioned official Veterans Day events for more than three decades. In recent history, formal ceremonies were staged in the star-shaped Florida Seminole Veterans Building. But gatherings for vets had been occurring in small and large-scale, impromptu or planned on other reservations, he said.
Bowers credited President Mitchell Cypress, a Vietnam-era vet who served in Germany, for the earliest grassroots gatherings that happened around campfires in the early 1980s.
“They would meet at a ball field in Big Cypress and roast some hot dogs. Sometimes a six-pack of beer would find its way into the circle,” Bowers said.
President Cypress said he, Jacob Osceola, the late Roy Nash Osceola and other veterans would sit around the fire, near a flagpole, and tell stories. In 1983, they decided to create a larger event for the following year because Roy Nash’s son, Herman L. Osceola, had recently joined the Marine Corps.
“Now, we look around here today and we see a picture of Herman on the wall,” President Cypress said with his voice quivering during the recent Big Cypress event. “But do we see that he sacrificed his life?”
In March 1984, Lance Cpl. Herman L. Osceola, for whom the gymnasium is named, was killed in Korea with 17 other Marines during a nighttime helicopter training mission.
According to a 2014 U.S. Census Bureau report based on community surveys, American Indians and Alaska Natives accounted for 152,897 veterans nationwide. In January 2015, the Congressional Research Service reported that since the Korean War alone, 402 fully identified Native Americans have been killed while serving in war.
The most recent Native American warrior to die in battle was 39-year-old Army Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, a Cherokee, who was killed in October 2015 during a rescue mission at an ISIS prison facility in Iraq.
Seminole Veterans Day events are open to tribal and non-tribal vets.
Randy Coyle, of Clewiston, who served in Vietnam as a Navy sonar tech, said he only attends the Seminole events.
“I’ve been coming here for 25 years and I am always impressed – especially when I think that out of a couple thousand members so many have stood up to serve and defend this land,” Coyle said.
Also honored at the event was Devin Osceola, a Miccosukee Tribe member and 2014 Gulliver Preparatory School graduate who recently enlisted in the Marine Corps.
President Cypress said tribal events will always be open to all vets.
“We look at each other as part of one big family. We’re brothers and sisters – nationality has nothing to do with it when we are all fighting together for freedom,” President Cypress said.
Miss Florida Seminole Princess Destiny Nunez, Jr. Miss Florida Seminole Skyla Osceola, Little Miss Seminole Victoria Benard and Little Mr. Seminole Gregory James II went table to table at the Big Cypress Veterans Day event thanking veterans. Nunez said those who serve should be honored every day.
“We need to let them know how we cherish what they have sacrificed for us. What they have been willing to do means so much to all of us,” she said.