Indianz.Com > News > Rep. Tom Cole: Paying tribute to our Native veterans
Ahead of its formal opening on November 11, 2020, workers put finishing touches on the National Native American Veterans Memorial at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
A Debt of Gratitude
Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Throughout American history, millions of brave men and women have selflessly answered the call to protect our freedom and preserve liberty by serving in the military. While numerous individuals have fought for the great cause of freedom, it wasn’t until after World War I that the United States first set apart a special day just to say, “thank you.” This week on Veterans Day, we honor and remember our veterans for their awe-inspiring display of courage, sacrifice and devotion.

Indeed, whether it’s a friend or family member, each of us knows someone who has served or is still serving our country in the military. I often think of the amazing veterans in my own family, including my late uncle and namesake who survived the infamous Bataan Death March as a prisoner of war during World War II. I am also tremendously proud of the service rendered by my late father, who joined the Army Air Corps on the eve of World War II, later retiring as the second most senior master sergeant in the Air Force and renown as one of the best to run a crew that fixed airplanes.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 17.4 million veterans currently living in the United States, including more than 306,000 in our communities across the state of Oklahoma. Considering the significant military presence in Oklahoma, including at the Fourth District’s own Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City and Fort Sill in Lawton, it’s also worth recognizing that thousands more Americans are currently serving on active duty.

National Museum of the American Indian: National Native American Veterans Memorial Opening – Premieres November 11, 2020

We are forever indebted to both our veterans and active service members for their devotion. As we gratefully reflect on the patriotism exemplified by our veterans this week on Veterans Day, I wanted to highlight some meaningful projects underway to honor their service for generations to come.

As you might know, it was announced earlier this fall that the National Cemetery Administration is awarding a significant federal grant to support construction of a State Veterans Cemetery in Ardmore. This very special project in the Fourth District has been years in the making and would not have been possible without the dedicated efforts and attention of numerous members of the community. I want to especially thank Ardmore City Manager J. D. Spohn, State Senator Frank Simpson, State Representative Tommy Hardin as well as former Representative Pat Ownbey and Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs Director of Homes Shawn Kirkland, Ardmore Veterans Center Administrator Marsha Huddleston and Rear Admiral Wesley Hull for their tireless work and commitment.

The brave men and women who have defended our country deserve the utmost respect, and I am proud that Ardmore will soon be able to serve as the final resting place of distinct and well-deserved honor for our veteran heroes.

In addition, this week in our nation’s capital, I am proud that a special memorial will be unveiled to honor the unique legacy of Native American veterans. Set to be dedicated and opened on Veterans Day during a virtual ceremony at the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Native American Veterans Memorial will rightly recognize the incredible military service rendered specifically by Native Americans throughout our country’s history.

In fact, Native Americans have served our country in higher numbers than any other ethnic minority in the United States since the Revolutionary War. The effort to construct and open this memorial is another project that has been years in the making and one that I was proud to have a role in with my friend and fellow Oklahoma colleague Congressman Markwayne Mullin, who in 2013 led legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to authorize construction of the memorial on the National Mall.

National Native American Veterans Memorial
The National Museum of the American Indian is seen in the background of the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., on November 11, 2020. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Without question, we owe a constant debt of gratitude to generations of veterans, and we have a solemn duty to serve and honor our veteran heroes, including many who sustained life-altering injuries fighting for the cause of freedom. On Veterans Day and every day, I hope you’ll join me in showing your support and appreciation for their devoted service.

Finally, if you are a veteran and have experienced problems related to your earned benefits, please contact my Norman office at 405-329-6500, so my staff can help you get answers. Also, if you are a veteran experiencing a crisis, please call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or text the number 838255 to receive confidential support.

Tom Cole, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, is serving his eighth term in Congress as the elected representative of Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District. He is recognized as an advocate for taxpayers and small business, a proponent for a strong national defense and a leader in promoting biomedical research. He is considered the foremost expert in the House on issues dealing with Native Americans and tribal governments. He and his wife, Ellen, have one son, Mason, and reside in Moore, Oklahoma.