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TAHLEQUAH, OKLAHOMA - The Cherokee Nation honored four veterans by presenting them with the Cherokee Medal of Patriotism at this month's Tribal Council meeting. All of them served in the Army and are part of the longstanding Cherokee military tradition.
Interim Principal Chief S. Joe Crittenden pins the Cherokee Medal of Patriotism on Richard "Rick" Baldridge
John Elmo Butler was born in Delaware County to the late Rev. and Mrs. John E. Butler and was raised in the Butler community near Grove, Oklahoma. He graduated from Grove High School in May 1961 and Tonkawa Junior College in Tonkawa, Oklahoma in 1962. At 21, Butler was drafted into the Army. He served three years, one of them in Vietnam.
"I started in at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and I went into heavy equipment," said Butler. "They shipped me to Vietnam. I was in Cam Rahn Bay. It was a big supply depot, and we built roads while I was there. We built some in Cam Rahn Bay, but we got off in the jungles, too."
After his discharge, Butler returned to Grove and married his wife of 44 years. His military benefits helped him purchase a farm and further his college education at Northeastern State College in Tahlequah. Butler made a career of farming and also worked at BF Goodrich and in the Oklahoma State Parks system. He also served one term as Delaware County Commissioner.
Richard "Rick" Baldridge was born in Tahlequah at the old Hastings Hospital. He grew up on his family's farm near Lost City, Oklahoma and in Lawton, Oklahoma where he attended school. In high school, Baldridge was a top athlete in football and track. He attended the University of Oklahoma on a football scholarship, earning a business administration degree and graduating from the Army ROTC program. Baldridge signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles but accepted his commission as a second lieutenant and received officer training at Fort Lee, Virginia.
"I signed with Philadelphia out of college to play professional football," said Baldridge. "I walked away from a professional contract because I knew that I had a better purpose in life, and that was to serve my country."
Baldridge served as a personnel officer at the VII Corps, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. He was the VII Corps liaison during the 1972 Munich Olympics, participated in the last European Command Track and Field Championships, accompanied heavyweight boxing champion Floyd Patterson, who gave boxing lessons to military personnel, and finished his tour serving as the race relations officer for the VII Corps. Baldridge then returned to the University of Oklahoma and earned a master's degree in human relations.
For the past 35 years, he has worked in personnel management for companies in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas. Baldridge is currently the employee services manager for Cherokee Nation Industries and raises Beefmaster cattle on the family farm near Lost City with his cousin.
Michael W. Rider was born in Tahlequah and spent most of his youth in Tulsa, Okla. He attended Seneca and Sequoyah high schools before joining the Army in May 1973. Rider's first assignment was in Fort Greeley, Alaska, followed by duty in Fort Rucker, Ala., Larson Barracks, Kitzingen, Germany, Fort Hood, Texas, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Long Island, New York, and Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he retired from his last unit, the 101st Airborne Division, in July 1994 after more than 21 years of service. He spoke fondly of the camaraderie he felt in the Army.
"You had a great, big family, so that was the best," said Rider. "Everybody was there for you, and you were there for them."
Rider returned to Oklahoma and earned a bachelor's degree in psychology at Northeastern State University in October 2000. His children, Nicholas and Jamie, live in Buffalo, New York, and his son, Michael, lives in Pennsylvania. Rider lives with his wife, Patty, just north of Tahlequah.
Former Cherokee Nation Deputy Principal Chief Joe Grayson, Jr. entered the Army on Jan. 3, 1968. He received his basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and was sent to Vietnam where he served with the 4th Infantry Division in Pleiku, Dak To and Kontum from 1968 to 1969. During the war, Grayson worked as a courier delivering messages containing highly confidential information to outlying units for the adjutant general"s office. Grayson contracted malaria and spent several weeks in the hospital before being sent to Fort Carson, Colorado, where he served in the 5th Infantry Division for 18 months before being honorably discharged on Dec. 10, 1971.
"I am humbled to receive this award," said Grayson, who started the tradition of recognizing veterans before the Tribal Council during his tenure as deputy principal chief. "I want to thank the Cherokee Nation for this, and I never really intended to receive one of these, so it is an honor and a privilege. Thank you very much."
The Cherokee Nation honors Cherokee service men and women during regular Tribal Council meetings as a way to thank them for their sacrifices for their county and as a way to demonstrate the high regard in which all veterans are held by the tribe. Statistically and historically, American Indians, including Cherokees, are thought to hold the highest record of military service per capita of any ethnic group, according to the US Department of Defense.
posted August 26, 2011 6:10 am edt
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