Leonard Sealey, a Chickasaw veteran from Lawton, Oklahoma, said that memories of his service in Vietnam came flooding back when he saw a Huey helicopter at the Udvar-Hazy Center during a recent trip to Washington D.C.
Sealey is one of 16 Chickasaw veterans on a Veterans Day trip to the nation’s capital sponsored by the Chickasaw Nation.
Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said the Chickasaw Nation sponsored the trip to show appreciation for their service to the country.
"We owe a great debt of gratitude to all the men and women who served in the armed forces to protect our freedom,” said Gov. Anoatubby. “While Veterans Day offers a unique opportunity to express our appreciation, it is always fitting to thank these individuals for the sacrifices they made to help secure the way of life we enjoy."
Ada, Oklahoma, veteran Tom Cooper and Sealey placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns during the trip.
Cooper said it was a blessing to be chosen to lay the wreath.
"This is something I will never forget," he said. "I lost friends overseas, so this is something I did for the friends I lost and for all the families who lost loved ones."
James Swinney, a Vietnam veteran on the trip from Grapevine, Texas, said when he and many others came home from Vietnam, few people thanked them for their service.
“At (that) time, most people didn't show our military the respect they deserved," he said, adding it really appreciated the Chickasaw Nation for giving Native veterans an opportunity to visit Washington to thank them for their service. He went on to say the number of people who approached the veterans to say ‘thank you’ illustrates how public attitude has changed for the better toward veterans.
Marvin Garrison, a Chickasaw veteran from Alpine, Arkansas, agreed, saying many people had expressed their appreciation for their service.
Sealey visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and made an etching of the name of a comrade he witnessed killed in action in March 1966. The pilot of his helicopter was struck by machine-gunfire and died instantly.
Many of the other Vietnam veterans on the trip made a point to visit “the wall” to find names of men they had met during their service. There were more than a few tears from members of the group as they visited the memorial.
The group included veterans from Oklahoma, Texas, Rhode Island, Montana, Louisiana, Arkansas and California. They arrived on the special excursion November 7 and departed November 12.
The group has visited the World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol, among other sites.
Members of the group of Chickasaw veterans included Mary Ahtone, Ada, Oklahoma; Jim Boyd, Coventry, Rhode Island; Tom Cooper, Ada, Oklahoma; Irvin Cravatt, La Habra, California; Jim Dickerson, Norman, Oklahoma; Delbert Evans, Holden, Louisiana; Marvin Garrison, Alpine, Arkansas; Joe Hefner, Whitesboro, Texas; Billy Hester, Edmond, Oklahoma; Leonard Sealey, Lawton, Oklahoma; James Swinney, Grapevine, Texas; Thomas Smith, Butte, Montana; Tecumseh Underwood, Maud, Oklahoma; Michael Whithorne, Kingston, Oklahoma; Flying Clouds Moore, Tuskahoma, Oklahoma, and Holmes Willis, Altus, Oklahoma.