http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgDwight Birdwell, a two-time Silver Star recipient and Cherokee veteran, speaks at the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame’s Oct. 21 banquet and induction ceremony after being inducted in the OMHOF. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Dwight Birdwell, a two-time Silver Star recipient and Cherokee veteran, speaks at the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame’s Oct. 21 banquet and induction ceremony after being inducted in the OMHOF. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

WE SERVED: Birdwell’s service in Vietnam honored

Cherokee veteran and two-time Silver Star recipient Dwight Birdwell, center, receives a medal signifying his induction into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame. Birdwell also earned two Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam in 1968. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX In 2007, Cherokee veteran Dwight Birdwell, with the help of author Keith William Nolan, told about his military service in Vietnam in the book “A Hundred Miles of Bad Road: An Armored Cavalryman in Vietnam, 1967-68.” COURTESY
Cherokee veteran and two-time Silver Star recipient Dwight Birdwell, center, receives a medal signifying his induction into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame. Birdwell also earned two Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam in 1968. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
11/10/2017 08:00 AM
NORMAN, Okla. – Dwight Birdwell, a native of Bell in Adair County, earned two Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts while serving in Vietnam in 1968.

He was assigned to Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 4th Calvary, 25th Infantry Division. The then-20-year-old Spc. 5 Birdwell was the gunner on a 52-ton M48 Patton tank. He was efficient with the weapons provided to him and used them to save his fellow soldiers in two battles.

For his bravery and service, the former Cherokee Nation Judicial Appeals Tribunal chief justice was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame on Oct. 21. About 50 of his friends and family members attended the ceremony to honor him and 10 other honorees.

“I want to thank the Cherokee Nation and other folks who came from back home, many of whom I’ve known since I was 3 years old, all the way from bean fields, strawberry fields, hay-hauling fields and what have you,” he said after receiving his OMHOF medal. “I must say without hesitation that I want to also remember and honor the 70-something people I served with while I was in Vietnam from (19)67 to (19)68 who were killed in action and did not make it back. Their faces and their memories will forever be in my heart. Thank all of you, again, for this humbling honor. It’s something I will treasure the rest of my days.”

Troop C was responsible for securing the main supply route between Saigon and Tay Ninh in South Vietnam. On Jan. 31, 1968, Birdwell and his unit were outside Saigon at Cu Chi, resting after weeks of field operations. At dawn and without warning, an estimated 70,000 Viet Cong guerillas and North Vietnamese soldiers attacked major cities in South Vietnam. Their main target was Saigon. Another target was the American command center at Tan Son Nhut, southeast of Saigon.

An airbase was also at Tan Son Nhut, which is where Birdwell’s unit, numbering less than 100 men, fought a Vietnamese force numbering approximately 1,000 men.

Troop C moved from Cu Chi to take up positions along Highway 1 on the west side of the airbase, heading off any withdrawing enemy soldiers attacking the base. The column of three M48 tanks and 10 armored personnel carriers or APCs quickly made it to the blacktopped Highway 1.

Unknowingly, the column pulled onto the highway just as the 1,000-man force prepared to attack the air base. As the column passed huts that paralleled the highway to the west, rocket-propelled grenades were fired from the huts knocking out the lead tank and three APCs.

The M48 Patton tank was equipped with a .50-caliber machine gun and a 90mm main gun. Birdwell, the gunner in the second tank, and his commander didn’t immediately realize what had taken place. When the tank commander finally returned fire and shot into the huts, a return barrage of fire seriously wounded him.

Upon realizing his commander was wounded, Birdwell dragged him to safety in the highway’s ditch. Birdwell then climbed on the tank and returned fire with the main gun and the .50-caliber machine gun. RPG rounds were shot at the tank but missed, Birdwell later recalled. His firing kept the enemy at bay and the tank sheltered the more vulnerable APCs behind it.

During the battle’s mayhem, Birdwell realized that no one was firing from the vehicles ahead of him. He also realized that some were on fire and enemy soldiers had clambered atop one of the disabled APCs.

“They were monkeying with the M60s (machine guns),” he recalled. “I couldn’t believe it. I fired on them with the .50-cal., and hit about half of them. The burst really spread them out.”

Birdwell’s tank became the center of Troop C’s survival. Troops who had crawled into the ditch found shelter behind it, and because of his constant machine-gun fire and cannon fire, the enemy couldn’t overrun the column.

“Birdwell was part of that 10 percent that are good soldiers and understands fighting,” Albert Porter, who fought alongside Birdwell that day, said.

Birdwell fired the main gun but eventually used all 64 rounds and all the .50-caliber ammunition.

Troop C eventually received artillery and air support and evacuated the wounded.

For his bravery under fire, Birdwell was awarded the Silver Star.

He received a second one later in 1968 for rescuing fellow soldiers. That incident occurred on July 4 after he had moved up in rank. Now a tank commander, he was at the end of a column of APCs and two other tanks moving through the An Duc village, which was occupied by North Vietnamese Army sympathizers.

Upon entering the village, the column was attacked and had to retreat. After the unit regrouped, it was discovered an APC had been disabled by enemy fire and left in the village along with its crew. Birdwell and his tank crew returned to the village three times to rescue stranded soldiers.

“When no one else wanted the job, I volunteered my tank and crew to go back into the village to rescue the abandoned APC crew members,” Birdwell said.

Birdwell, with the help of author Keith William Nolan, told about his service in Vietnam in the 1997 book, “A Hundred Miles of Bad Road: An Armored Cavalryman in Vietnam, 1967-68.” The book is no longer printed but is available on Amazon.com, Birdwell said.

And he still gets requests to sign his book. “Just about every week, someone contacts me and asks, ‘can I send you the book to sign?’ It’s humbling to do that. I tell them, ‘if I write in your book it’s going to deface it, and it won’t be worth anything.’ That’s, of course, a joke.”

He said he has mixed emotions about writing the book. Looking at it from the standpoint of the men he served with who were killed in combat, he said their families have gained an understanding about the conditions their loved ones served in, sometimes more details about how they died and the “nature of the relationships they had with other members of the unit.”

“It served as a unifying force. For example, there’s a lady in California whose brother was killed in our unit, and now she’s good friends with a lady in New York whose husband also served. It’s been like a spider web for making good connections,” Birdwell said. “On the other hand, I sometimes feel bad about some of the stories about how people died. You kind of hate for a brother or sister to learn what really happened or maybe how horrible the event was, so I have some doubts on that, but otherwise, overall, I’m glad I wrote the book.”

Birdwell was honorably discharged in December 1968 after serving nearly three years in the Army. He was also awarded a Bronze Star, for meritorious service. He said, since his service, he has joined a Veterans of Foreign Wars group in Wauseon, Ohio, because a friend of his from there “insisted” he join. He’s also a member of the 25th Infantry Division Association and the 3-4 Cavalry Association.

He served on the tribe’s JAT, now the Supreme Court, from 1987-99 and served as chief justice in 1995-96 and 1998-99. At 69, he still practices law in Oklahoma City and plans to continue.

“You know a lot of lawyers work until they die. I suspect that’s what I’m going to do. If I didn’t do that, I’d like to be at Bell. I’d like to be living at Bell,” he said. “There’s nothing like waking up in the morning at Bell and walking out barefooted and getting dew between your toes, smelling that hickory smoke and maybe some fresh coffee. We used to hear the canning factory whistle. I’m sure that’s long gone. During the night we could hear the KCS (Kansas City Southern train) all the way to Bell. What a sweet sound, and hearing owls during the night and maybe a coyote or wolf. There’s nothing like living at Bell, in my opinion.”
About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life.
He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life. He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association. Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.

People

BY STAFF REPORTS
01/12/2018 12:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY – AARP Oklahoma is accepting nominations for its 10th annual Indian Elder Honors to celebrate 50 Native American elders who have positively impacted their respective communities, families, tribes and nation. Since its inception in 2009, AARP Oklahoma has recognized 450 elders from all 39 tribal nations in Oklahoma. “The AARP Indian Elder Honors recognizes the extraordinary contribution of Indian elders – many of whom have never been recognized before,” AARP Oklahoma Volunteer State President Joe Ann Vermillion said. The 2017 honorees from 33 Oklahoma tribal nations included teachers, veterans, nurses, artists, tribal leaders, language and culture preservationists, champion archer and champion arm wrestler. Cherokee Nation citizens Mary Rector Aitson, Dianne Barker Harrold, Marcella Morton and Joe T. Thornton, as well as United Keetoowah Band citizen Woody Hansen, were honored in 2017 and presented medallions by national and state AARP officials. “This event celebrates a lifetime of service from these distinguished elders,” AARP State Director Sean Voskuhl said. “The common thread between the honorees, regardless of the contribution, is the commitment to community and service.” This year’s Indian Elder Honors will be held Oct. 2 in Oklahoma City. Nomination applications are available at <a href="https://www.aarp.org/states/ok/stateeventdetails.eventId=671063&stateCode=OK/" target="_blank">https://www.aarp.org/states/ok/stateeventdetails.eventId=671063&stateCode=OK/</a>. Nominations may be submitted electronically or mailed to AARP Oklahoma, 126 N. Bryant, Edmond, OK, 73034. Nominees must be enrolled citizens of federally recognized Oklahoma tribal nations, at least 50 years old and be living. Nominees do not have to be AARP members. For more information, call Mashell Sourjohn at 405-715-4474 or email msourjohn@aarp.org. The deadline for submitting nominations is April 30.
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Reporter – @cp_bbennett
01/09/2018 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH – When shooters took the line for an Oklahoma Archery Shooters Association qualifier recently at Obsession Archery, Cherokee Nation citizen Michael Lackey was among them despite being in a wheelchair. “I didn’t get to play regular sports like kids that were not in a wheelchair, so my dad got me into archery and I started doing that,” Lackey said. “I’ve been shooting bows since I was about 12 or 13 years old.” Lackey joined 64 archers competing for bragging rights and prize money at the Dec. 17 qualifier. Shooters received four minutes to shoot five arrows at a five-spot target through 12 ends, or rounds, for a total of 60 arrows. Each arrow had the potential to earn up to five points depending on its target placement. Lackey shot with the compound bow he uses when hunting. “The compound is definitely easier from a wheelchair standpoint, in my opinion, because I shoot the recurve also and they’re a lot longer than your compounds. So a string will hit the wheel sometimes or you’re closer to the ground, so the limbs will hit the ground. The compound is definitely easier to shoot from a wheelchair.” Although paralyzed most of his life, Lackey said he doesn’t believe in limits. He’s an avid outdoorsman who often hunts, a skill honed by competitive archery. “It’s really helped my shooting, getting back into the target shooting,” he said. “It’s made me more consistent for hunting. I like the competition, and I like to improve myself.” The competition marked Obsession Archery’s first time hosting a qualifier for the ASA, which aims to grow archery through clubs that provide competition, training and education opportunities. It’s a development Lackey said he appreciates. “It’s harder on people who don’t have the funding to drive clear across the state to shoots. So it’s nice to have somewhere where we can do it here in town, in Tahlequah.” Obsession Archery owner John Obenrader called the development a “big deal” for his business and customers. “ASA is the main organization that I shoot for. It’s one of the biggest ones in the country. It’s where all your top archers are and at the state level. They hold championships and qualifiers all across the state. They just came to me and asked me if I wanted to shoot since I have a shop with an indoor range.” Obenrader said he hopes the competition brings in new shooters and their families to get them familiar with indoor and 3-D range shoots. “It’s pretty much a family-oriented kind of sport because a lot of times you’ll see the kids get started in it, and then mom and dad get started in it because they want to do it.” For Lackey, the qualifier was a family affair as both his children competed in the cub class. “My daughter Makayla, she’s been shooting for two or three years now. Hayden just got his first compound bow this year,” he said. “They’re both shooting really well. It’s good for them. It teaches them discipline, practicing. You got to be good to make a shot on a deer. You want to deer hunt, you got to practice and get good at shooting.” In addition to passing his archery passion onto his children, Lackey hopes to see archery grow among others in wheelchairs. “I don’t see it quite as much as I would like to see,” he said. “It’s a big challenge from sitting in a wheelchair, but I do know a lot of guys that hunt (and compete). It just takes lots of practice because I have to, I don’t have a lot of balance, so I have to kind of position myself where I can maintain my balance while I’m shooting my bow.” For more information, call Obsession Archery at 918-951-9540.
BY LINDSEY BARK
Reporter
12/20/2017 04:00 PM
WASHINGTON – Cherokee Nation citizen Jessica Henry, of Salina, Oklahoma, was one of five women selected to participate in the Global Press Institute’s training-to-employment program – a weeklong training in Washington, D.C., learning the aspects of journalism. GPI offers Native American women who have no prior journalism experience, and who are enrolled citizens of federally recognized tribes, the opportunity to become journalists and use journalism “as a development tool to train and employ women in developing media markets to produce high-quality local news coverage that elevates local and global awareness and ignites social change.” Cristi Hegranes, GPI founder and executive director, said graduates receive long-term employment with GPI covering their communities. Henry, a Northeastern State University graduate with a public relations degree, was a Cherokee Nation Businesses intern when she applied for the program after seeing an article on <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org" target="_blank">www.cherokeephoenix.org</a>. “It wasn’t really that different because I had to do journalism with my degree plan. I had to be with NSU News for a semester. I kind of had a little bit of knowledge about it but not as in depth as we learned in training,” Henry said. She said she received hands-on experience once training began by learning to conduct interviews and about photojournalism, taking newsworthy photos and ethics and accuracy. “All of the experts from each department came in talking about verification and source types and how to get the right news angles and the photojournalism. They all came in and directly taught us from that. So it was a lot to take in, but it helped a lot, too. We had a lot of time to just ask questions,” she said. Henry said she wants to focus on being as accurate as possible in her writing. “That’s a really big deal, being ethical and accurate in our writing. I think that will be interesting, to see how far I can get with fact checking everything that people say, what’s really true and what’s not because a lot of people believe what they first read and they don’t really look into it for themselves. So I guess that will be a big part of what I want to d0,” she said. Now home, Henry continues to train through an online forum with GPI editors. She said one of her first assignments was to “pitch” story ideas to editors to learn what types of stories to look for and that her main focus is to write untold stories in the Cherokee community. “I want to learn things that I don’t know about…and be able to share that information accurately about our community because there is a lot of stories here. It just takes someone to tell them,” Henry said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/14/2017 03:30 PM
TULSA, Okla. – Deborah Fritts, a Cherokee Nation Businesses employee, recently joined Tulsa’s Resilient Advisors on Racial Equity. Tulsa became part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program in 2015. As part of the program, the advisory committee develops strategies addressing physical, social and economic challenges facing Tulsa. “I am incredibly honored and humbled to be asked to serve in this capacity,” Fritts said. “The spirit of Tulsa is built on resiliency, and it is a trait shared by the Cherokee people. However, there is always more work to be done, and we must all do our part to stay engaged in our communities and informed on the issues impacting our fellow residents. I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve on this committee and look forward to the positive impact we can have on our city.” Fritts has worked at CNB for 13 years and manages the Cherokee Art Market. To learn more about Tulsa’s Resilience Challenge, visit <a href="http://www.CityofTulsa.org" target="_blank">www.CityofTulsa.org</a>. For more information about the 100 Resilient Cities program, visit <a href="http://www.100resilientcities.org" target="_blank">www.100resilientcities.org</a>.
BY KENLEA HENSON
Reporter
12/13/2017 08:15 AM
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Cherokee Nation citizen Sydney Lawrence recently earned All-American status at the 2017 National College Athletic Association Division II women’s cross-country championship. Lawrence, 20, was one of two student-athletes to achieve the status for Oklahoma Baptist University. She and her teammate, Abby Hoover, are the first athletes of any sport to receive that honor for OBU since it joined the NCAA in August. “It is a huge honor to be one of the first to receive something like this in OBU’s history, but I cannot take all of the credit for it. God has worked in incredible ways to allow me to be here at OBU and to continue to run and compete for his glory, Lawrence, who OBU recruited from Stilwell (Oklahoma) High School, said. “It was an honor to receive this because this was my first time to ever compete in the NCAA. All of the work I had put in since my freshman year of college to prepare for this opportunity paid off.” She also thanked her family, coach and teammates for her and the Lady Bison’s success, which as a team placed 20th at the championship. “My family has supported me through this entire process and helped me keep the right perspective about everything,” she said. “And also my coach and teammates, everyone’s dedication to being successful and also having the mindset of competing and living for Christ is what makes this team and program such a special and life-changing thing to be a part of.” To receive All-American honors, student-athletes must place in the top 40. Although Lawrence said she was “doubtful” in the race’s beginning, she steadily progressed past other runners to the finish line in 40th place for the final All-American spot. “I was kind of doubtful in the beginning of the race because I was hearing that I was in like the seventy, eighties and I thought ‘wow I’ve got a lot of work to do and people to pass,’ but I tried to stay focused on racing smart and being patient. I truly cannot deny that the Lord was at work and giving me strength through the entire race,” she said. At Stilwell, running in Class 4A, Lawrence won state in the 3,200-meter and 1,600-meter runs as a freshman and was a three-time all-state cross-country runner. She also won a national championship as a junior. She excelled in cross-country after picking up the sport as a freshman. Up to that point she had concentrated on track. She said she was also recruited by the University of Central Oklahoma and Stephen F. Austin and John Brown universities but chose OBU because of the people she met and its Christian environment. As cross-country season closes, Lawrence said she’s had a successful season with awards and achievements, including All-Region, Great American Conference Meet runner-up, First-Team All-Great American Conference, GAC Scholar-Athlete, GAC Runner of the Week and NCAA All-American. Lawrence said with indoor track season beginning she would work hard to meet her goals. “It would be really great to go to the national indoor meet as well. The national standard is much more difficult than previous years of competing in NCCAA’s (National Christian College Athletic Association), but I am excited to have that motivation to keep working hard and meeting running times I never thought I could run,” she said.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
12/12/2017 12:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen JoKay Dowell on Nov. 7 received a 2017 Dream Keepers award from the Greater Tulsa Area Indian Affairs Commission and the city of Tulsa Human Rights Department as part of National Native American Heritage Month. The GTAIAC’s annual Dream Keeper Awards Banquet celebrates Native American leaders “who exemplify strong character and have made a difference through solid dedication to public service.” Dowell (Cherokee/Quapaw/Peoria/Eastern Shawnee) was awarded the “Will Anquoe Humanitarian Award.” The award “recognizes humanitarianism and overall contributions to the Native community but also recognizes those who bridge communication and understanding among diverse groups.” Dowell was honored for her “strong history of advocacy and activism in the areas of Indigenous peoples’ rights, human rights, anti-war actions, peace and the environment.” She has traveled to Central and South American Indigenous communities to collaborate on ways to address shared injustices and successes, stated the Dream Keepers booklet. In 2016, she and her daughter Anna delivered supplies to the Oceti Sakowin camp on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and spent five weeks there to help resist the Dakota Access Pipeline. “I looked around the room at the awards banquet and saw so many people of our people who have made profound contributions to their tribe, the community, the world. I felt inadequate, undeserving,” Dowell said. “I brought my grandchildren with me so that they can see that even though there is little financial reward or gain in community work, in service to others, there is so much reward. In fact, it’s mostly volunteer work. Many times we take money from out own pockets, but even then there is much reward when someone thanks us for something we’ve done or when we are recognized by our own community, our tribes, our peers like these Dream Keeper awards.” Residing in rural northern Cherokee County, Dowell is also a photographer whose work has shown at Gilcrease Museum and a writer published in Indian Country Today, Native American Times, Native Oklahoma Magazine, First American Art Magazine, Native Americas Journal, the Cherokee Phoenix and Indigenous Women's Magazine. Dowell served as faculty-in-residence for the 2004 University of Oklahoma’s National Education for Women’s Leadership Conference. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northeastern State University and has won awards for creative writing. In 2011, as part of the 7th Generation Fund’s delegation, she attended the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at UN headquarters in New York City. “I think each one of us has an obligation of service to our fellow human beings, to our home, Earth,” she said. “I’ve always been told that we Indigenous people have been given directions from the creator to take care of each other and Mother Earth and to demonstrate respect for all living things. I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do.”