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Seminoles to honor veterans at annual celebration

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - The Seminole Tribe of Florida will honor Native and non-Native veterans at its 20th Annual Veteran's Day Celebration.

The event, which usually attracts around 500 people, will be held Nov. 8 at the Big Cypress Entertainment Complex. The daylong celebration will include presentations, music and ''tributes that anyone who has ever attended will never forget,'' according to the tribe's announcement.

Asked what the intriguing comment referred to, S.R. Tommie, executive assistant to Chairman Mitchell Cypress, said the tribe ''goes all out'' in its effort to acknowledge the veterans.

''This celebration takes advantage of the opportunity to educate those that may not be aware of the number of Native Americans that have served our country. Each year a Native American artist is selected to sing the National Anthem at the opening of the ceremony. Special invited Native American veterans travel to share their life experiences with all in attendance, poems are read, the pledge of allegiance is spoken in our Native language by the Seminole youth and a replica of the Vietnam Memorial is displayed, just to name a few highlights. Those in attendance walk away with a renewed respect for all veterans,'' Tommie said in an e-mail.

This year's special invited guest speakers are Phillip Koon and Anile Locust.

The annual celebration began two decades ago when three friends - Cypress, Roy Nash Osceola and Jacob Osceola - tried to figure out the best way to honor those who had served and were serving in the armed forces. Roy Nash Osceola's son, Herman, a U.S. Marine, had lost his life in a training exercise in 1986.

The men had decided on a Veteran's Day Celebration and barbecue; but Roy Nash Osceola, who had also served in the Marine Corps, passed on before the day arrived. His friends decided to carry on with the plans all three had made. The first celebration attracted many veterans from the tribe's Big Cypress Reservation; ''And as the years went on, the tribute to the men and women of the armed forces took on a life of its own,'' the tribal spokesman said.

Cypress, a veteran, still takes a very active role on the Veteran's Day Celebration Planning Committee, Tommie said. Jacob Osceola had an accident two years ago and is currently confined to a wheelchair.

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Two tribal members are currently serving in the U.S. military: Camille Santiago is in the Air Force and Gabriel Coppedge serves in the Army. Coppedge is scheduled to be deployed to Iraq at the end of November.

More than 70 Seminole tribal members have served in the U.S. military throughout history, Tommie said. None has died in combat.

Given the Seminoles' history of never having surrendered to the United States in the Indian wars of the 19th century, what motivates tribal members to serve in the U.S. military?

''When Seminole tribal members enlisted to serve in the U.S. Military, it was in an effort to protect our U.S. homeland and assist in defending the freedom that we all have become accustomed to,'' Tommie said.

Native and non-Native veterans from all around the country are invited to join the Seminoles' Veteran's Day Celebration. During the day, presentations are made to families of veterans who have died, and to living veterans as a group to acknowledge and honor their contributions to the country, Tommie said.

Two veterans are selected each year for a special honor. They are singled out and awarded a plaque with a message of thanks on behalf of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. This practice came about in an effort to recognize our living veterans, Tommie said.

Cypress said he looks forward to the event each year.

''The Veteran's Day Celebration is always a special one for me, and I'm proud that we've been able to carry on and make it bigger and bigger every year,'' Cypress said. ''It's what these heroes deserve.''