WASHINGTON, D.C. – Chickasaw Nation warriors laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery on Monday to honor veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice defending freedom.
Four Chickasaw Vietnam War veterans represented their tribe at the national shrine. They included Ada resident Gene Jefferson, a Marine sergeant who served as a helicopter machine gun operator; Donald Yegge, a Loyalton, California, resident who served as a gunner’s mate in the Navy; Knute Landreth Jr., a Roswell, New Mexico, resident and former Army sergeant who served as a stealth “search and destroy” warrior; and Bruce Squires, a Fargo, North Dakota, resident, and first lieutenant in the Army. All were involved in combat.
“Oh, wow, it was very emotional,” Yegge said in describing the honor of laying a wreath while representing the Chickasaw Nation. “The sergeant said, ‘Where are you from?’ We said Oklahoma, California, New Mexico and North Dakota … from the Chickasaw Nation.”
“I got to a place very few people in the United States will ever get to be, thanks to the Chickasaw Nation,” Landreth said of being merely steps away from of the Tomb of the Unknowns. “It was just unbelievable. I don’t know how I was selected. It meant a lot to me. It was a great honor.”
The servicemen were part of a dozen Chickasaw veterans and citizens who attended a five-day trip to America’s capital by the Chickasaw Nation. Each year, the tribe sends its warriors here to enjoy the sights, take part in Veterans Day memorial ceremonies and allow them an opportunity to meet other Chickasaws who served. The 2018 warriors served America in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and National Guard.
Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said the trip is an expression of appreciation to Chickasaws who have served our country.
“There is something truly special about those men and women who serve in the armed forces to defend our freedoms and way of life,” said Anoatubby. “While it is important to make a special effort to honor their service on Veterans Day, it is always appropriate to express our appreciation for their sacrifice and dedication.”
This year’s 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 – protected by active military honor guard soldiers 365 days a year – also expressed how much it meant to them to be given the privilege of laying the wreath.
“It was very special,” said Jefferson.
Squires said the respect shown to the veterans “was humbling.”
Several Chickasaw veterans were thanked for their service by a man who came to America from Belize and works as a volunteer at Arlington Nation Cemetery.
“It was an amazing moment and meant so much,” said Phillip Billy, a veteran and director of veteran services at the Chickasaw Nation. “It came from his heart.”
Yegge said the encounter put a lump in his throat.
“He just seemed to appear out of nowhere to shake our hands and thank us for our service,” Yegge said.
The Chickasaw Nation provides veterans with increased benefits and services, including the Chickasaw Warrior Society. The warrior society was formed by Gov. Anoatubby in 2015 as an organization to encourage community, establish and support camaraderie and personifies the Chickasaw warrior spirit. The Nation also opened The Chickasaw Nation Veterans Lodge on the Ada South Campus near the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center in Ada.
The site was selected to assist veterans in a centralized location. It serves by assisting them in accessing all resources available through the Chickasaw Nation and other sources. It also serves 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.