Cherokee Nation honors veterans, brings military history to life

By Sequoyah County Times

Cherokee Nation officials are honoring Cherokee veterans and bringing history to life through new displays at the Cherokee Nation Veterans Center.

Newly installed displays feature Lieutenant Jack C. Montgomery and Admiral Joseph J. Clark, who are considered two of the most highly decorated Cherokee citizens to have ever served in the United States military.

“Cherokee citizens have a long history of service,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “Cherokee Nation has always honored and revered our warriors for protecting our freedom. The veterans center makes it possible for us to show our eternal gratitude toward our Cherokee veterans while providing them with needed services, comradery and a welcoming space.”

Cherokee Nation estimates there are more than 4,000 Cherokee veterans. The tribe is honoring those citizens and their service by presenting many of their stories, artifacts and memorabilia to the public.

The $2 million Cherokee Nation Veterans Center, which was tribally funded, features 25 pieces of military-themed artwork from American Indian artists and 16 display cases showcasing multiple Cherokee veterans’ military regalia. There are a dozen other cases displaying vintage wartime newspapers and various memorabilia.

“Native Americans serve and defend our country at higher rates than any other ethnicity,” said Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, a U.S. Navy veteran who served in Vietnam. “It is important that we honor these brave women and men for their sacrifices and the important roles they serve in securing and defending our liberties.”

One of the newest features honors Cherokee citizen and Medal of Honor recipient Lieutenant Jack C. Montgomery. He is one of only eight Native Americans in the 20th century bestowed with U.S.’s highest military honor. Montgomery was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during the Battle of Anzio in World War II.

Montgomery’s artifacts and memorabilia include several photographs, awards, certificates and medals such as his Purple Heart, Silver and Bronze Stars, and Cherokee Medal of Patriotism. The collection also consists of items depicting Montgomery’s Medal of Honor, including detailed narratives, his certificate, a crystal plaque, a memorial dedication shadow box and flag, and photos of him with his medal.

Another new display honors Cherokee citizen and Navy Cross recipient Admiral Joseph James “Jocko” Clark. Clark was the first Native American to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy and went on to serve in World War I, World War II and the Korean War.

The J.J. Clark collection includes artifacts such as a plaque, dedication photograph and hat from USS Yorktown, which was the carrier he commanded during WWII. The collection, which is on loan from the Cherokee Heritage Center, also includes a bronze bust of Admiral Clark and several of his medals and ribbons.

The 8,700-square-foot veterans center includes Cherokee Nation veteran assistance and benefit offices and a U.S. Veterans Affairs readjustment counselor. It houses a community room, kitchen and “Wall of Honor” entryway.

The veterans center is located just east of the W.W. Keeler Complex, 17675 S. Muskogee Ave., in Tahlequah.

For more information, call 918-453-5000 ext. 4166.