WASHINGTON, D.C. – Chickasaw Nation warriors laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery Thursday to honor veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice defending freedom.
Four retired Chickasaw veterans represented their tribe at the national shrine. They included Vietnam veteran and U.S. Marine Hank Cease, of Goose Creek, South Carolina; George Riddle, of Yuma, Arizona, who served in the U.S. Army 30 years; Danny Landreth, of Ardmore, Oklahoma, who served the U.S Navy 21 years, and Lee Jennings, a Marlow, Oklahoma, resident who served in World War II and Korea with the Army and U.S. Air Force.
“The experience was overwhelming,” Landreth said of the ceremony, “especially to be in the presence of the other great and honorable veterans. To lay the wreath was probably the pinnacle of my military experience,” he added fighting to contain his emotions.
“You are given an opportunity to represent someone who gave his life; someone who can’t speak. We have to speak for them, otherwise they will be forgotten,” Landreth said.
Riddle also said the experience was “the best thing that ever happened to me. It was such an honor and a privilege to represent the group. It just left me speechless and brought tears to my eyes,” he said. Riddle served two tours of duty fighting in Vietnam during his lengthy military career.
The “group” referenced by Riddle are 19 retired military veterans who are also citizens of the Chickasaw Nation. Each year, the Nation treats its warriors to a tour of the nation’s capital.
Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said the trip is an expression of appreciation to Chickasaws who have served our country.
"Veterans Day helps us remember the debt of gratitude we owe the special group of men and women who served in the armed forces," said Gov. Anoatubby. "While this time of year offers a unique opportunity to honor their service, it is important that we always remember the sacrifice and dedication of those who gave of themselves to preserve our freedoms and way of life."
This year, the three-day excursion has taken the warriors to monuments honoring the nation’s greatest leaders and sites commemorating wars where Americans have fought with valor and dignity in the name of freedom.
Two other Chickasaw veterans who represented the Chickasaw Nation at the tomb – guarded by active military honor guard soldiers 365 days per year – also expressed how much it meant to them to be given the privilege of laying the wreath.
“It is always an emotional thing to honor a soldier, particularly an unknown soldier,” Cease said, adding it was the second wreath-laying of his career. He participated in a ceremony at the Punch Bowl in Hawaii. Formally known as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, it is located in Honolulu and honors military personnel killed in action.
“I was still an active duty Marine when the Hawaii ceremony was held,” Cease said. He served 1.5 tours in Vietnam before being wounded so badly he was returned to the United States for medical treatment. He laughs about it today. “In my first tour, I forgot to use cover and conceal,” he quipped smiling.
“When I received the card telling me I was a Chickasaw warrior, it was one of my proudest moments,” he said.
Approximately two years ago, Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby was determined to provide the tribe’s veterans with increased benefits and heightened attention. The Chickasaw Warrior Society was launched and the Nation is currently constructing a Chickasaw Warrior Society building on the campus of the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center in Ada, Oklahoma.
The site was selected to assist veterans in a centralized location. When completed in 2017, it will serve as a centralized location where will staff will to assist veterans in accessing all resources available through the Chickasaw Nation and other sources. it will also serve as a place for members of the Chickasaw Warrior Society, other veterans and those in active service to come together for fellowship and build relationships.
At 89, Lee Jennings stepped out of a wheel chair and walked to lay the wreath. He used only a cane to assist him. After the wreath was placed, Jennings walked back with an active duty soldier flanking him when he rejoined the group.
“It was great. I was honored to be asked to do it,” Jennings said, adding “God has blessed me and I am blessed to be Chickasaw.”