Cherokee citizen and World War II veteran Steve Downing Jr., of Locust Grove, Oklahoma, recalls his years aboard the USS Santa Fe, as pictured in the book he holds.
TAHLEQUAH, OKLAHOMA — The Cherokee Nation is flying seven Cherokee World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to tour the memorial sites at the nation’s capital.
“I have a friend or two that’s made the trip, but I never thought I’d be able to,” said 89-year-old Steve Downing Jr., of Locust Grove, Oklahoma. “I’m very grateful to the Cherokee Nation for this opportunity. It’s something that just touches me in a way that is kind of hard for me to describe.”
Downing Jr. spent nearly three years in the Navy aboard the USS Santa Fe as a radar technician helping with supply runs, escorting damaged ships to shore and aiding in Pacific Island invasions.
The Cherokee Warrior Flight, which is funded solely by the Cherokee Nation, will allow Downing Jr. to see war memorials in the capital for the first time.
“This is a way to tell our Cherokee veterans thank you and that we will never forget their service and sacrifices,” said Cherokee Nation Deputy Principal Chief S. Joe Crittenden, a Navy veteran who is traveling on the flight.
“For most of these men who served in World War II, this will be a trip of a lifetime as they get to see the memorials and monuments honoring their role in defending our great country. They are truly the greatest generation, and we can’t say thank you enough.”
The Cherokee Warrior Flight is similar to the national Honor Flight organization’s goal of helping all veterans, willing and able, to see the memorials dedicated to honor their service. With more than 4,000 military veterans who are Cherokee Nation citizens, the Cherokee Nation is hoping to replicate that experience for its people. Native Americans serve at a higher rate in the military than any other ethnic group.
The seven World War II veterans participating on the Cherokee Warrior Flight are:
Navy veteran Steve Downing Jr., 89, of Locust Grove, Oklahoma
Navy veteran Dewey Alberty, 88, of Tahlequah, Oklahoma
Navy veteran Charles Carey, 88, of Hulbert, Oklahoma
Army veteran Guy Wilson, 97, of Hulbert, Oklahoma
Army Air Corp veteran William Wood, 94, of Vinita, Oklahoma
Army veteran Eugene Fox, 91, of Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Navy veteran Joseph Leathers, 92, of Big Cabin, Oklahoma
A dinner and reception was held from 5-7 p.m. Monday in the Deer Room at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker and U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, a Cherokee citizen, took the opportunity to thank the seven veterans for their service and wish them safe travels.
After an overnight stay at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, veterans will depart Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. from the hotel for a noon flight from Tulsa to Washington, D.C. On Wednesday the group will visit the National World War II Memorial and take a tour of other monuments. On Thursday the veterans will tour the U.S. Capitol and arrive back in Tulsa that evening at 8:23 p.m.