Saturday was a day that arrived in a northeastern Oklahoma community after years of planning and decades of dreaming, discussing and designing for the president of the Military Order of Purple Heart Chapter 641.
"It is more than a dream come true; it is a promise I made to God when I was shot three times and wounded. I told him if he'd do this for me, get me out of here alive, I'd do something for him," Don Nichols said.
The unveiling of the memorial and depository for all veterans, "Dahnawa Ahiv Asjsonvhne Ayawisgi" – which is Cherokee for “The soldier was wounded in war” – brought a crowd to Tahlequah to celebrate and honor those who have served. The city is the seat of the Cherokee Nation.
Nichols was impressed with the outcome of the statue created by Troy Jackson. The memorial will also include a records repository for U.S. veterans to record their stories for others to hear. If the veteran is deceased, a child or spouse can tell the story.
"This is a place of healing. It's already healing to me to walk across the creek and sit here and meditate a bit," said Nichols, who as co-hosted the event, along with Tahlequah Mayor Sue Catron.
Catron introduced Republican Congressman Markwayne Mullin, OK-2, who talked about his grandfather, Kenneth “Cowboy” Morris, a veteran of World War II, and how his stories influenced his views on veterans affairs.
“He didn’t share his story a whole lot until the later part of his life,” said Mullin. “One of the mistakes that our generation makes, and the generation after us makes, is that we don’t take time to listen to our veterans. All of the many different veterans have stories to tell.”
He said events held for veterans are especially significant to him.
“It is an honor that I get to stand here,” said Mullin. “It is the most humbling thing I can do to speak at any event for veterans. I couldn’t do my job if those in the uniform didn’t do their job and do it well.”
Mullin also shared the story of Gilbert Crittenden, the late father of Cherokee Nation Secretary of Veteran Affairs S. Joe Crittenden.
Pvt. Crittenden served in the Battle of the Bulge and later in Germany, where he was captured and held prisoner for 15 days. Mullin explained that the senior Crittenden’s time in captivity was brief – not because he was liberated, but because he escaped. For his bravery, he earned the Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, a Prisoner of War Medal, a Combat Infantry Badge, and many other honors.
Mullin presented the former deputy chief his father’s medals, which had been lost in a fire.
In thanks, Crittenden said he knew his father well, but not all of the story of his service.
"I knew he was a great father, but I didn't know this story," he said. “This memorial is going to be a blessing for generations.”
Oklahoma District 5 State Rep. Josh West spoke on the creation of a veterans caucus and gave background information on the Purple Heart Award. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star medals for his service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I was shot in both of my thighs and stomach. That drives me every day in the capitol. When I get out of the shower and see scars, that drives me to do better and remember where I came from,” West said. “We started a veterans caucus to recruit more veterans. It is bipartisan and bicameral. We’d love to recruit more veterans. I don’t recruit about political party. We can discuss things as a veterans caucus. We can agree or not.”