WASHINGTON — Charles Lane, one of the 10 Cherokee war veterans participating in this year’s Cherokee Warrior Flight, said he can still hear the sound of American soldiers marching during the Korean War.
Lane, 83, walked through the Washington military monuments on Tuesday with the nine other Cherokee Nation citizens who fought in either the Vietnam War or the Korean War.
Sitting in a wheelchair, facing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, he looked at the names of people he once knew.
“I didn’t think it would happen, but I was here one evening with a group, and I stood there and I could feel them walking past me,” said Lane, who served in the Navy, Air Force and Army in a 30-year military career. “You could hear them whispering to one another.”
Lane was pushed around the monuments by his son, who is also a veteran. Lane said he visited the Washington monuments for the first time in 2006, when his son brought him.
“I wasn’t going to come,” Lane said, shaking his head at the memory. “The hairs come up on the back of your neck.”
The group is part of the sixth annual Cherokee Warrior Flight, which is spending three days visiting memorials and landmarks in Washington. About 50 veterans have visited Washington since the Warrior flights began six years ago.
This year, the group even visited the National Pentagon 9/11 Memorial, just one day before the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
Charles Brave, an 86-year-old from Hulbert, laughed about the hot, humid Washington weather while sitting on a bench at the Pentagon memorial.
Brave, whose name serves as a permanent reminder of his time in the Army, stood beside Sammy Carey, 65, gazing at the memorial to those who were lost on 9/11. Carey, who is also from Hulbert, said the veterans on the trip had known each other for 15 years.
Joe Crittenden, the secretary of veterans affairs for the Cherokee Nation, said military service can be “a calling” for Native Americans.
“Once it gets in your blood, so to speak, it is something we just do,” he said. “It’s a family type tradition.”
“We tell each other things that maybe we haven’t shared with our family even. It’s a brotherhood, whether it’s Navy, Army, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, it doesn’t matter,” said Crittenden.
Before joining the armed forces, Lane said he did not tell many people he was Cherokee.
“When I first joined the military, you didn’t tell anyone you were Indian or Native American,” said Lane. “You didn’t say anything about it.”
Now, Lane said he no longer feels the need to hide who he is, and he is proud to say he is Cherokee.
“It feels great,” said Lane. “It feels like I’m part of the nation again, you know?”
Crittenden said the Cherokee Warrior Flight is a small way for the tribe to say thank you to the veterans for their service to this country.
“‘Thank you’ can’t pay them back,” said Crittenden. “But the effort is to let them know that we certainly appreciate it from our heart. And then we just do what we do because we love our veterans. They love this country.”
The Cherokee Warrior Flight will return to Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport on Wednesday.
Gaylord News is a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.