Cherokee Nation honors three veterans in May

05/14/2014


(L to R) Cherokee Nation Veterans Center Manager Dr. Ricky Robinson, Tribal Councilors Curtis Snell and Jodie Fishinghawk, military veteran John Blackwood, Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation honored two Korean War veterans and a Vietnam War veteran with the Cherokee Medal of Patriotism at its May Tribal Council meeting.

John Blackwood, 81, of Stilwell; Richard Birdtail, 72, of Newalla; and Benny Summerfield, 67, of Jay, received a medal and plaque from Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden May 12, acknowledging their service to the country.

Staff Sgt. Blackwood was born April 25, 1932, to Lucy Swimmer, in Adair County. He attended Mulberry Indian Day School for eight years and Sequoyah Orphan Training School in Tahlequah for two years. Blackwood completed his high school education while serving in the U.S. Air Force. In 1949, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and completed basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas. Serving in combat, Blackwood was wounded in Korea in 1951. He served in the U.S. Army until he received his discharge in 1952. Blackwood also served in the U.S. Air Force from 1956 to 1964 and 11 years in the Oklahoma National Guard. Blackwood retired from military service in 1980. He received the Purple Heart Medal, Korean Service Medal and Good Conduct Medal. He and his late wife, Sally, raised three children together. He currently lives in the Stony Point community of Adair County.

“I’m just glad to be here. I have a lot of good memories and bad memories of the military,” Blackwood said. “Overall, I’m glad I did it.”

Spc. Birdtail was born May 3, 1941, to William Birdtail and Flora Washington, in Tahlequah. He joined the U.S. Army in 1962 and completed basic training at Fort Carson, Colorado. After basic training, Birdtail was sent to Korea. He served as an Army Personnel Carrier during his first deployment to Korea. After returning, Birdtail trained to become a marksman and served as a guard in his second deployment to Korea. In 1965, he received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army. Birdtail received multiple honors, including the Team Marksmanship Badge. Birdtail returned to Oklahoma, where he joined a band and worked in construction until his retirement in 2009. Birdtail has two children, Nova Sarren and the late Norman Birdtail. He and his wife, Mary, currently live in Newalla in Oklahoma County.

Spc. Summerfield was born April 2, 1946, to Drake and Claudine Summerfield, in Eucha. After a year of attending Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, the U.S. Army drafted Summerfield in 1966. He completed his basic training at Fort Bliss, Texas, and then was sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana, for advance infantry training. Summerfield deployed to Vietnam and was stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base near Saigon. After a year in Vietnam, he returned in 1967. Summerfield spent the remaining time of his military career stationed at Fort Sill until he received an honorable discharge in 1968. He received multiple honors. Summerfield later received a bachelor’s degree in technical education from Oklahoma State University in 1977. Summerfield and his family moved to Arizona after graduation, where he worked in the mining industry until his retirement in 2005. He and his wife, Judy, then returned to Oklahoma to live on the family farm near Jay in Delaware County. The couple raised two children.

Each month the Cherokee Nation recognizes Cherokee service men and women for their sacrifices and as a way to demonstrate the high regard in which all veterans are held by the tribe. Native Americans, including Cherokees, are thought to have more citizens serving per capita than any other ethnic group, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. To nominate a veteran who is a Cherokee Nation citizen, please call 918-453-5541 or 800-256-0671, ext. 5541.


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