ADA, Okla. – A plan announced a year ago at a conference honoring Chickasaw veterans came one step closer to reality Wednesday when the Chickasaw Nation broke ground on the Chickasaw Nation Veterans Lodge, May 11.
Hundreds of spectators and more than 60 Chickasaw veterans – both retired and active duty – were on hand as Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby thanked them for their bravery, courage, patriotism and service.
“It is impossible to give you a gift as great as the freedom you have given us,” Gov. Anoatubby said. “Our Chickasaw veterans are the epitome of bravery and the very model for courage and service.”
The lodge will be constructed on the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center campus south of Ada. The facility will be approximately 15,000 square feet and will be appointed with amenities so Chickasaw veterans may gather, relax, enjoy games and comradery.
More importantly, it places Chickasaw veterans close to medical services and near Chickasaw Nation staff who will help them access services and benefits they earned in service to America.
A total of 10 offices, a large counsel room, chapel, and gathering area are included in construction plans. A kitchen with the capacity to support large gatherings and events is planned, in addition to a large sunroom and front courtyard which will showcase the flags and seals of America’s five military branches.
To finish the courtyard, the tribe will place the largest Chickasaw Warrior statue at the lodge, Gov. Anoatubby said. The Warrior is a familiar sight at Chickasaw Nation Headquarters, clinics, medical center and the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur. The iconic sculpture was created by famed artist, former Seminole tribal chief and former Oklahoma state senator Enoch Kelly Haney.
“The statue symbolizes our proud warrior tradition – a tradition that you have carried on and kept alive,” Gov. Anoatubby said.
The Chickasaw Warrior Society, honoring retired and active duty military service by Chickasaws, was created nearly a year ago at a conference for veterans at WinStar World Casino. Gov. Anoatubby pledged to veterans the Chickasaw Nation was preparing ways to honor and assist them. The Chickasaw Veterans Lodge was merely a conceptual plan back then. Its full benefit to veterans will be known when it is completed in 2017.
Veterans greeted the groundbreaking with enthusiasm.
Vietnam veteran Bill Green, who served in the U.S. Air Force beginning in 1965, said the Chickasaw Warrior Society and the veterans lodge illustrated to him how attitudes have changed toward veterans.
“When we came home, we were treated pretty badly. But I think America understands now that men and women who fight are due respect and honor. They have no say in what battles they are asked to fight; if (wars) are supported or not supported. They merely answer the call to duty,” Green said.
“Today, I am seeing veterans come home to resounding applause, support and appreciation. It is good to see this,” he said, adding Vietnam veterans are also receiving thanks for their service in what is arguably the most unpopular war in U.S. history.
Chickasaw warrior Gene Anoatubby, a retired Assembly of God minister and Korean War veteran, echoed Green’s observations. “Duty is honorable for those who serve, but also for those who are served,” he said. “Nothing could have kept me away today. It is an honor to be here. We came from Tulsa to see this project get started.”
It was pointed out Native Americans are the largest per capita ethnic group to volunteer for service, beginning with World War I. Famed ‘Code Talkers’ – American Indians speaking their native language – were instrumental in the defeat of the Third Reich during World War II.
Chickasaws are particularly proud of the tribe’s warrior heritage. In its centuries-long existence, historians and experts cannot point to a single battle lost by tribal warriors.