Vietnam War veteran Don Osceola, who grew up on the Big Cypress Reservation, passed away April 29 at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood from complications related to the coronavirus, according to a press release from Seminole Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner.
The release stated that Osceola, hospitalized since April 17, is believed to be the first Native American in Florida to succumb to the disease. He had initially tested negative for COVID-19, then tested positive.
Seminole Tribe of Florida Inc. President and U.S. Army veteran Mitchell Cypress said Osceola earned many medals and was often described as a “Little Audie Murphy” in reference to the World War II hero from Texas who was awarded 28 medals.
Osceola was born a Seminole and later became a member of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians when he married his first wife, Dorothy Billie, who was a Miccosukee. They had one child, Deanna.
Osceola graduated from Clewiston High School, according to his daughter. He served in the U.S. Marines and was on active duty during the Vietnam War, where he earned the Purple Heart, one of many medals he received for meritorious service during the war.
According to his daughter, Osceola told her his first few months in Vietnam were “really scary.” His platoon came under fire more than once, she said, including one time when bullets were flying inches away from him. He earned a Purple Heart when a bullet hit the tip of his nose.
“He taught me by example that no matter how bad things are, as long as you’re connected to the creator, things will work out for the best,” she said. “Under any stress or pressure, I always saw him calm. He also liked to learn a lot.”
Osceola pursued theological studies in Gainesville and studied architecture at Florida International University in Miami. He worked for the National Park Service at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. He was a police officer for the Miccosukee Tribe and also worked in the Tribe’s housing department.
Following the death of his first wife, Dorothy, he married Mary Osceola, a member of the Seminole Tribe. They raised one son, Christian Osceola. Both survive him.
Funeral services are pending with the Akin-Davis Funeral Home of Clewiston.