BRIGHTON RESERVATION — The veterans building on the Brighton Reservation was filled with tribal and non-tribal veterans who were honored at the 36th annual Seminole Veterans Celebration and Recognition on Nov. 9.
“On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, Armistice Day was founded,” said Reina Micco before she gave the invocation to start the ceremony. “Now we call it Veterans Day. It has been 105 years of honoring men and women who served our great country.”
The guest speaker was Okeechobee Mayor Dowling R. Watford Jr., who spoke about his time in the military and what it meant to him.
“It is the biggest honor of my life to speak in front of veterans,” Watford said. “Vietnam vets are usually very quiet about their service and I never talk about mine because there isn’t much to say.”
Watford began his career at the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at Florida Southern College, where upon graduation he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He served at the Aberdeen proving ground in Maryland from 1972 to 1980 and was never deployed
Watford comes from a long line of veterans beginning with his fifth great-grandfather, who served in the Revolutionary War. His great-grandfather served in the Civil War, his grandfather was a World War I veteran, his father served in World War II and four of his five brothers served. Uncles on his mother’s and father’s side were killed in D-Day in WWII and his stepson served in the Gulf War.
“Something all veterans have in common is we all answered the call, served with honor, are very patriotic and respect our flag and our freedoms,” Watford said. “It was the best thing I ever did in my life. It taught me leadership skills and made me grow up.”
The tribe’s Mitchell Cypress and Jacob Osceola Sr. were also honored during the ceremony.
Cypress served with the National Guard in Oklahoma during the summer of 1966 and in April 1968 he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he served for two years. He served at Fort Dix in New Jersey and in Kitzingen, Germany.
He has dedicated his life to serving the tribe in a variety of roles, including as a board representative, chairman and president.
Osceola volunteered for the U.S. Army after he graduated high school in 1969 and served until 1971. After training for Airborne at Fort Benning, Georgia, and then at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, he volunteered to go to Vietnam. He served at Tan Son Nhat Air Base for a year, where he was a door gunner on a helicopter. Once he crashed on a helicopter due to engine failure and another time he went down in a fixed wing airplane.
When he returned to the tribe, Osceola became the director of the Neighborhood Youth Corps in 1974. In 1977 he was director of the Indian Action Team, which brought certified trade instructors to teach carpentry, electrical and plumbing to tribal members. The trainees in the program built the clinic in Big Cypress and completed one in Brighton.
In 1979, Osceola was elected as Big Cypress Councilman, where he served for four years. Now he owns businesses on the Hollywood Reservation.