http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgDwight Birdwell, a two-time Silver Star recipient and Cherokee veteran, speaks at the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame’s Oct. 21 banquet and induction ceremony after being inducted in the OMHOF. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Dwight Birdwell, a two-time Silver Star recipient and Cherokee veteran, speaks at the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame’s Oct. 21 banquet and induction ceremony after being inducted in the OMHOF. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

WE SERVED: Birdwell’s service in Vietnam honored

Cherokee veteran and two-time Silver Star recipient Dwight Birdwell, center, receives a medal signifying his induction into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame. Birdwell also earned two Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam in 1968. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX In 2007, Cherokee veteran Dwight Birdwell, with the help of author Keith William Nolan, told about his military service in Vietnam in the book “A Hundred Miles of Bad Road: An Armored Cavalryman in Vietnam, 1967-68.” COURTESY
Cherokee veteran and two-time Silver Star recipient Dwight Birdwell, center, receives a medal signifying his induction into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame. Birdwell also earned two Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam in 1968. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
11/10/2017 08:00 AM
NORMAN, Okla. – Dwight Birdwell, a native of Bell in Adair County, earned two Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts while serving in Vietnam in 1968.

He was assigned to Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 4th Calvary, 25th Infantry Division. The then-20-year-old Spc. 5 Birdwell was the gunner on a 52-ton M48 Patton tank. He was efficient with the weapons provided to him and used them to save his fellow soldiers in two battles.

For his bravery and service, the former Cherokee Nation Judicial Appeals Tribunal chief justice was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame on Oct. 21. About 50 of his friends and family members attended the ceremony to honor him and 10 other honorees.

“I want to thank the Cherokee Nation and other folks who came from back home, many of whom I’ve known since I was 3 years old, all the way from bean fields, strawberry fields, hay-hauling fields and what have you,” he said after receiving his OMHOF medal. “I must say without hesitation that I want to also remember and honor the 70-something people I served with while I was in Vietnam from (19)67 to (19)68 who were killed in action and did not make it back. Their faces and their memories will forever be in my heart. Thank all of you, again, for this humbling honor. It’s something I will treasure the rest of my days.”

Troop C was responsible for securing the main supply route between Saigon and Tay Ninh in South Vietnam. On Jan. 31, 1968, Birdwell and his unit were outside Saigon at Cu Chi, resting after weeks of field operations. At dawn and without warning, an estimated 70,000 Viet Cong guerillas and North Vietnamese soldiers attacked major cities in South Vietnam. Their main target was Saigon. Another target was the American command center at Tan Son Nhut, southeast of Saigon.

An airbase was also at Tan Son Nhut, which is where Birdwell’s unit, numbering less than 100 men, fought a Vietnamese force numbering approximately 1,000 men.

Troop C moved from Cu Chi to take up positions along Highway 1 on the west side of the airbase, heading off any withdrawing enemy soldiers attacking the base. The column of three M48 tanks and 10 armored personnel carriers or APCs quickly made it to the blacktopped Highway 1.

Unknowingly, the column pulled onto the highway just as the 1,000-man force prepared to attack the air base. As the column passed huts that paralleled the highway to the west, rocket-propelled grenades were fired from the huts knocking out the lead tank and three APCs.

The M48 Patton tank was equipped with a .50-caliber machine gun and a 90mm main gun. Birdwell, the gunner in the second tank, and his commander didn’t immediately realize what had taken place. When the tank commander finally returned fire and shot into the huts, a return barrage of fire seriously wounded him.

Upon realizing his commander was wounded, Birdwell dragged him to safety in the highway’s ditch. Birdwell then climbed on the tank and returned fire with the main gun and the .50-caliber machine gun. RPG rounds were shot at the tank but missed, Birdwell later recalled. His firing kept the enemy at bay and the tank sheltered the more vulnerable APCs behind it.

During the battle’s mayhem, Birdwell realized that no one was firing from the vehicles ahead of him. He also realized that some were on fire and enemy soldiers had clambered atop one of the disabled APCs.

“They were monkeying with the M60s (machine guns),” he recalled. “I couldn’t believe it. I fired on them with the .50-cal., and hit about half of them. The burst really spread them out.”

Birdwell’s tank became the center of Troop C’s survival. Troops who had crawled into the ditch found shelter behind it, and because of his constant machine-gun fire and cannon fire, the enemy couldn’t overrun the column.

“Birdwell was part of that 10 percent that are good soldiers and understands fighting,” Albert Porter, who fought alongside Birdwell that day, said.

Birdwell fired the main gun but eventually used all 64 rounds and all the .50-caliber ammunition.

Troop C eventually received artillery and air support and evacuated the wounded.

For his bravery under fire, Birdwell was awarded the Silver Star.

He received a second one later in 1968 for rescuing fellow soldiers. That incident occurred on July 4 after he had moved up in rank. Now a tank commander, he was at the end of a column of APCs and two other tanks moving through the An Duc village, which was occupied by North Vietnamese Army sympathizers.

Upon entering the village, the column was attacked and had to retreat. After the unit regrouped, it was discovered an APC had been disabled by enemy fire and left in the village along with its crew. Birdwell and his tank crew returned to the village three times to rescue stranded soldiers.

“When no one else wanted the job, I volunteered my tank and crew to go back into the village to rescue the abandoned APC crew members,” Birdwell said.

Birdwell, with the help of author Keith William Nolan, told about his service in Vietnam in the 1997 book, “A Hundred Miles of Bad Road: An Armored Cavalryman in Vietnam, 1967-68.” The book is no longer printed but is available on Amazon.com, Birdwell said.

And he still gets requests to sign his book. “Just about every week, someone contacts me and asks, ‘can I send you the book to sign?’ It’s humbling to do that. I tell them, ‘if I write in your book it’s going to deface it, and it won’t be worth anything.’ That’s, of course, a joke.”

He said he has mixed emotions about writing the book. Looking at it from the standpoint of the men he served with who were killed in combat, he said their families have gained an understanding about the conditions their loved ones served in, sometimes more details about how they died and the “nature of the relationships they had with other members of the unit.”

“It served as a unifying force. For example, there’s a lady in California whose brother was killed in our unit, and now she’s good friends with a lady in New York whose husband also served. It’s been like a spider web for making good connections,” Birdwell said. “On the other hand, I sometimes feel bad about some of the stories about how people died. You kind of hate for a brother or sister to learn what really happened or maybe how horrible the event was, so I have some doubts on that, but otherwise, overall, I’m glad I wrote the book.”

Birdwell was honorably discharged in December 1968 after serving nearly three years in the Army. He was also awarded a Bronze Star, for meritorious service. He said, since his service, he has joined a Veterans of Foreign Wars group in Wauseon, Ohio, because a friend of his from there “insisted” he join. He’s also a member of the 25th Infantry Division Association and the 3-4 Cavalry Association.

He served on the tribe’s JAT, now the Supreme Court, from 1987-99 and served as chief justice in 1995-96 and 1998-99. At 69, he still practices law in Oklahoma City and plans to continue.

“You know a lot of lawyers work until they die. I suspect that’s what I’m going to do. If I didn’t do that, I’d like to be at Bell. I’d like to be living at Bell,” he said. “There’s nothing like waking up in the morning at Bell and walking out barefooted and getting dew between your toes, smelling that hickory smoke and maybe some fresh coffee. We used to hear the canning factory whistle. I’m sure that’s long gone. During the night we could hear the KCS (Kansas City Southern train) all the way to Bell. What a sweet sound, and hearing owls during the night and maybe a coyote or wolf. There’s nothing like living at Bell, in my opinion.”
About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life.
He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life. He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association. Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.

People

BY STAFF REPORTS
05/17/2018 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation citizen and employee Stephen Highers on May 3 graduated from the University of Oklahoma Economic Development Institute. “Having graduated from the OU EDI program, I can now set for the test to become a Certified Economic Developer through the International Economic Development Council,” CN Entrepreneur Development Manager Stephen Highers said. According to the IEDC website, it’s a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization serving economic developers. It also states that with more than 5,000 members, the IEDC is the largest organization of its kind. “Economic developers promote economic well-being and quality of life for their communities, by creating, retaining and expanding jobs that facilitate growth, enhance wealth and provide a stable tax base,” the site states. “From public to private, rural to urban and local to international, IEDC’s members are engaged in the full range of economic development experience.” Highers, who also serves as a Tahlequah city councilor, said he was excited to bring back knowledge he gained at the OU EDI to Tahlequah. “Economic development is not easy, especially if you don’t understand the data and process by which to make informed, sound decision. Through my coursework and training at the OU EDI, I’m able to bring back to Tahlequah concrete ideas and solutions that will enhance our future growth in a healthy, competitive, and objective manner,” he said. Highers said the program is a two-year program, and he has plans to become certified in the winter of 2019. For more information, visit <a href="https://pacs.ou.edu/edi/about/" target="_blank">https://pacs.ou.edu/edi/about/</a>.
BY KENLEA HENSON
Reporter
05/17/2018 01:15 PM
TAHLEQUAH – Family, friends and community members gathered on May 11 at the Cherokee Casino Tahlequah grounds for a surprise ceremony for 9-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen Grant York. York suffers from several health conditions, including mitochondrial mutation. His mother, Kasie Mendenhall, said with mitochondrial mutation he is unable to absorb nutrients and hasn’t been able to eat solid food since he was 3 years old. In April, he was admitted to Physicians Choice Hospice. “The last two years have been hard on him. He has spent most of all of it in the hospital,” Mendenhall said. “Physicians Choice Hospice has allowed Grant to have his pain adequately controlled and for him to remain home and not in the hospital.” Caring for their patients is not the only thing PCH nurses do. They also grant wishes – Butterfly Wishes. York’s wish was to go to the “Dixie Stampede” in Branson, Missouri, and through the Butterfly Wishes program he and his family received an all-expense paid trip for him to fulfill that wish. However, before York and his family left for Branson, the nurses surprised him with a special ceremony that included York’s class at Keys Elementary School. This was the first time York met his classmates and teacher in person, Mendenhall said. The Tahlequah Police Department also joined the ceremony making York their first junior officer, and he even took the official TPD oath. He was also presented a certificate, T-shirt and badge. “Grant loves police and now he is a real police officer,” Mendenhall said. After a photo shoot for the family, the TPD gave York a police escort out of town. Once they reached Branson, the Branson police, fire department and Missouri Highway Patrol were waiting to escort him into town. Mendenhall said she was thankful for the community’s support her son and family received. “Seeing our entire community come together to support Grant and our family leaves me speechless. Without the support of the community things like this wouldn’t be possible,” she said.
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Multimedia Producer – @cp_rgraham
05/17/2018 08:15 AM
BROKEN ARROW – An old Vaudevillian joke goes something like this: “She shall now hang upside down while juggling pianos...on horseback.” Adding a horse to an impossible task makes the joke funnier and even more impossible. That is, unless you’re 10-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen Sophie Duch. Take away the pianos and that’s exactly what she does as a professional trick rider at rodeos. On May 11-12, Sophie and her trusted horse, Jesse, took their act to Broken Arrow for the 2018 Rooster Days Festival and Rodeo. Born and raised in Stilwell, Sophie’s love for western trick riding began when her parents took her to a rodeo in 2011 where the All-American Cowgirl Chicks trick riding team performed. “I knew we were in trouble the moment Sophie saw the Chicks perform. She was only 3 years old but latched onto the fence and watched their every move,” said her mother and CN citizen Shawna Duch. “After the rodeo, Sophie had to meet each one of them. I could tell even then she was hooked.” Sophie has received much help learning her craft during her young life, including from her first coach, CN-sponsored professional trick rider Haley Ganzel. “There’s a lot of people around here to help you,” Sophie said. “They’ll even loan you a horse if you need one.” This has never been a problem for Sophie. The other half of Sophie’s team, Jessie’s Girl, is a good-natured bay mare and has been with her since she fell in love with trick riding. “She (Jessie’s Girl) just kind of took to it,” Sophie’s father Troop Duch said. “She’s a natural show-off. She really shines once she gets in the arena.” Having a well-trained horse is key to the success and safety of the trick rider because many of the most difficult and dangerous tricks are performed with little or no control of the horse’s reins. Sweeping and precise ovals of the arena must be completed at the right speed to be successful. For safety’s sake, tricks are performed from the inside or left as the horse runs counter clockwise, thus keeping the horse between the acrobatic rider and the arena’s fence line. At the Rooster Days Rodeo, Sophie performed not only as entertainer, but she also carried the American flag into the arena for the national anthem. In her act Sophie performed three tricks and demonstrated twice during Jessie’s giant loop giving spectators on both sides of the arena a look. On the second night of the rodeo, Sophie performed her mounted shooting act, in which she shoots targets while on horseback. For more information, call 918-696-1648 or 918-696-1648 or email <a href="mailto: Shawnaduch@gmail.com">Shawnaduch@gmail.com</a>. ??
BY KENLEA HENSON
Reporter
05/14/2018 08:00 AM
PRESCOTT, Ariz. – With more than 30 years of experience in public service, Cherokee Nation citizen Dale Deiter was recently selected as forest supervisor of the Prescott National Forest. Growing up in Arizona, Deiter said he developed a love for public service from his father, who served as a district ranger in Arizona and New Mexico. In 1983, Dieter began his career in the U.S. Forest Service, first as a volunteer and then as a wild land firefighter for the Gila National Forest in New Mexico for three summers and one summer for the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Jackson, Wyoming. During that time he also attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, where he earned a bachelor’s degree and a later a master’s degree in forestry. After college, Deiter landed a job as a pre-sale forester and then a hydrologist for the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. The hydrologist job took him to the Fishlake National Forest in Richfield, Utah, where he spent more than seven years in that position dealing with watershed management and restoration. In 2007, he went back to Wyoming where he served as the district ranger for Bridger-Teton National Forest, a position he held prior to his promotion as forest supervisor with Prescott National Forest. With a long resume under his belt, Dieter said the best part of having a career in the Forest Service is “leaving a legacy for public lands.” “The (national) forests are a place where people can go to have fun, so knowing you’re part of making that happen is very rewarding,” he said. Deiter said during his time with the Forest Service he’s traveled extensively throughout the western United States, even into Quebec, Canada, fighting fires. He said it’s “neat” to be able to work in places where a lot of people go for vacation. “You get the opportunity to fly the national forest either in a helicopter or a plane or on horseback or by snowmobile into the back country or even hiking as well. You just get see a lot of unique lands in a lot of places that people don’t tread,” he said. In his new role as forest supervisor, his job is to help with the oversight of the management of PNF’s 1.25 million acres of public land located across north central Arizona. He said the biggest challenge for him is adapting to challenging conditions facing climate change. “Even in my career, fire season has gotten longer and fires have gotten bigger, and we are seeing its impact even in terms as snowpack and spring flow and that then presents a lot of challenges in long-term-sustaining management of national forests,” he said. Deiter said he’s happy to be in his new position with PNF and plans to finish out his career there. “I am planning to spend quite a bit of time there. There are a lot of challenges to deal with there, and it’s a really neat forest with great people, and so I will finish out my career there,” he said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/11/2018 03:30 PM
STILWELL – Cherokee Nation Distributors, a company within Cherokee Nation Businesses’ engineering and manufacturing sector, has again been named a prestigious supplier in the aerospace industry. Sikorsky Aircraft, part of Lockheed Martin’s Rotary and Missions Systems business, recently honored CND among its foremost suppliers. CND received honors as a Sikorsky Elite Supplier for best-in-class performance in achieving on-time delivery, cost and quality standards during 2017. “This is a great recognition of our CND team and of their unwavering dedication to providing first-in-class service,” CNB’s Diversified Businesses President Steven Bilby said. “It is our employees’ commitment to building the highest-quality of products while serving our clients with innovative solutions that truly sets us apart as the best in the industry.” Dan Schultz, Sikorsky president, and Mike Ciocca, vice president Supply Chain Operations at Sikorsky, presented the award at a recent ceremony honoring the company’s top suppliers. “We have developed a long-standing relationship with Sikorsky and, through that relationship, established a reputation for excellence in our field,” Chris Moody, CNB’s executive general manager of CNB’s engineering and manufacturing sector, said. “We are extremely proud to see our employees recognized for their commitment and continued diligence, year after year.” CND has also been awarded Sikorsky Gold Supplier status five times since first earning its Sikorsky Gold Supplier Certification in 2012. CND produces wire harness and electro-mechanical assemblies, interconnect solutions, distribution and kitting. The tribe’s engineering and manufacturing sector also offers laser and water-jet fabrication, 5-axis machining, welding, and assembly for military aircraft, ground vehicles, missile systems and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle programs.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/10/2018 08:15 AM
VONORE, Tenn. – Cherokee Nation citizen and author Brad Wagnon will sign his new book, “The Land of the Great Turtles,” from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on May 29 at the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum. Wagnon is a lifelong resident of the Gideon Community in Cherokee County, Oklahoma. He is a graduate of Tahlequah High School (1997) and Northeastern State University (2001) with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and Native American Studies. He taught Cherokee history, culture and language at THS from 2005-15 and has worked for the CN’s Community and Cultural Outreach as a technical assistance specialist since June 2015. He is the author of two children’s books, “How the World Was Made: A Cherokee Story” and “The Land of the Great Turtles.” Both are based on traditional Cherokee stories. Although the new Sequoyah Birthplace exhibit’s soft opening won’t be until June, with a grand opening in July, museum staff is gearing up to host events, programs and lectures. The creator of the Cherokee syllabary, Sequoyah was born near the museum site in 1776. The mission of the museum, a property of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, is to promote the understanding and appreciation of the history and culture of the Cherokee Indians in eastern Tennessee, particularly the life and contributions of Sequoyah. The museum is located at 576 Highway 360. For more information, email seqmus@tds.net or call 423-884-6246.