At a recent Cherokee Tribal Council meeting in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, four members of the Nation received their Cherokee Medal of Patriotism for their service in the United States Military.
Each month the tribal council honors Cherokee members who are veterans among the highest group per capita to service in the Armed Services.
Honored this month was John Elmo Butler, a Vietnam War veteran, born in Delaware County to the late Rev. and Mrs. John E. Butler. He was raised in the Butler community near Grove, Oklahoma and graduated from Grove High School in 1961 and was drafted after attending Tonkawa Junior College in Tonkawa, Oklahoma at the age of 21. Butler served 2 years in the Army, one was in Vietnam.
“I started in at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., 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.”
Butler returned and married his wife of 44 years, used his military benefits to help purchase a farm and further his college education at Northeastern State College in Tahlequah. He made farming his career with stints working at B.F. Goodrich, the Oklahoma State Parks system and served one term as Delaware County Commissioner.
Richard “Rick” Baldridge born in Tahlequah was also honored. A top high school athlete in football and track, he lived on his family’s farm near Lost City, Oklahoma. Baldridge went on to play football at University of Oklahoma on a scholarship while earning a business administration degree and graduating in the Army ROTC program. He signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles but enlisted as a second lieutenant and was shipped to Fort Lee, Virginia.
“I signed with Philadelphia out of college to play professional football,” said Baldridge in a Cherokee Nation press release. “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.”
Other achievements for Baldridge were:
- Personnel office at the VII Corps, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany
- VII Corps liaison during the 1972 Munich Olympics, participating in the last European Command Track and Field Championships
- Accompanied heavyweight boxing champion Floyd Patterson as he gave lessons to military personnel
- Finished his tour as race relations officer for the VII Corps
- Received a master’s in human relations from U of O
- Has worked in personnel management for 35 years.
- Currently services manager for the Cherokee Nation Industries
Michael W. Rider also born in Tahlequah spent most his youth in Tulsa, Oklahoma and attended Seneca and Sequoyah high schools. He joined the Army in the spring of 1973 and was shipped to Fort Greeley, Alaska. Rider jumped around the globe while in the service before retiring with the 101st Airborne Division in July 1994.
According to the press release 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.
“I am humbled to receive this award,” said former Cherokee Nation Deputy Principal Chief Joe Grayson, Jr. in the press release. “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.”
Grayson, entered the Army in 1968 and was sent to Vietnam after basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana. He served in the 4th Infantry Division in Plaikeu, Docto and Kontum from 1968 to 1969. He worked as a courier delivering messages containing highly confidential information to outlying units for the adjutant general’s office.
While serving he contracted malaria and spent several weeks in the base hospital, before be sent off. He was honorably discharged December 10, 1971.
Grayson started the tradition of honoring the veteran’s while he was deputy principal chief.