TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma – A small northeastern Oklahoma city made history on Saturday, Nov. 7, with the dedication of the second Purple Heart veterans memorial statue for a tribal nation in the state.
Not only does "Dahnawa Ahiv Asjsonvhne Ayawisgi" – Cherokee for “The Soldier was Wounded in War” – honor Cherokees who served, it's a place for veterans from across the nation to reflect and share their stories.
A crowd of around 150 attended a two-hour outdoor ceremony in Tahlequah, featuring the posting of the colors, a flag salute and prayer, speakers, unexpected awards and presentations, videos, and the official unveiling of the statue. The event was co-hosted by Tahlequah Mayor Sue Catron and Don Nichols, president of the Military Order of Purple Heart Chapter 641 and a driving force behind the project.
"We're thrilled Don chose to put the memorial here. This community honors those who have given to our country, and we are so appreciative to have something like this right at the gateway of our community. It's something special," Catron said.
The sculpture’s artist and Cherokee National Treasure Troy Jackson told the audience his parents taught him to respect the men and women who fought for American and for the rights of all those who live in this country.
“I hope everyone who enters this city who sees this sculpture can be reminded that we should always show our humility and thanksgiving for being Americans,” he said.
Jackson explained that the statue shows one soldier signaling for a helicopter while another soldier lies wounded, waiting for an uncertain outcome. He also surprised Nichols with a plaque of appreciation for seeing the project from inspiration to completion.
Many dignitaries from the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Cherokee Nation, state government, and the community were present and spoke on the significance of the memorial.
MOPH National Adjutant Chuck Adkins Jr. said the statue honors Native Americans who have served in the U.S. armed forces.
"They're larger than any other group or population that has served, and helped win the war – in particular, the Code Talkers in World War II. We're here today to honor those who were combat-wounded," said Adkins. "I'm proud to be part of this; it's inclusive for all branches of service, disabled and the American Legion, everyone. We're trying to turn Oklahoma into a 'purple' state."
Mitch Reed, MOPH adjutant and legislative ambassador for Oklahoma, said the state is fifth in the nation, with a million veterans. Reed hopes this one, and others being built, will be designated national memorials.
"We've walked through this project since its infancy, and it's great we can build a monument like this in Oklahoma," said Reed. "This monument Don Nichols came up with because the Cherokee Nation [citizens] are warriors in a big way, with a long history of military service.”
Deputy Director Sarah Lang of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs spoke on suicide prevention and mental health among veterans and the programs that they offer.
"Oklahoma is first to have a state and national suicide prevention challenge, with platform online, called The Valor System. It's for veterans who need help and don't know where to start. It has a strong emphasis on prevention and first early signs crisis," said Lane.
Also in attendance were 2nd District Congressman Markwayne Mullin, Boyd Barclay of the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Russell A. Smith, other community dignitaries, and Purple Heart recipients.
Harold E. Hooper, who served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam and Korean Wars and received the Purple Heart, said the statue was built in appreciation for what veterans have done.
“I think we are here for the people who didn’t get back. We are here for the people who were awarded their Purple Heart posthumously,” said Bob Hathaway, Purple Heart recipient and president of Cahokia Consultants.
Following a video of veterans and relatives of veterans sharing some of their stories, wreaths were laid and Wes Benge played “Taps” to end the ceremony.