Veterans who live in Cherokee County may feel more welcome here than in some other areas, because so many local organizations give them places to socialize with other vets, receive help, or offer their support for the community.
Each organization is made up of different people who served in the military at different times, but all are composed of veterans who wanted a place to mingle with like-minded folks. And those who would like to join a veterans group have plenty to choose from.
The Cherokee County Veterans Council hosts major events in the county, like the Veterans Day parade. The CCVA might be considered an umbrella organization, as it's made up of the majority of local veterans organizations in the area.
"Every service organization in the county is a member of it - all of them that we know, anyway," said Becky Wolfe, past president and member. "That includes the Cherokee Nation, all the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legions in the county. The Elks Lodge is also a member. The DAR [Daughters of the American Revolution] and Blue Star Mothers are not made up of veterans, but what they do is for veterans, so they are members of the organizations also."
Tahlequah's VFW post welcomes any veteran who served overseas during a time of conflict. However, relatives of veterans who served overseas may join the VFW Auxiliary, which serves veterans, the military and their families.
Faye Morrison, VFW Auxiliary secretary, joined because of her father and has been part of the organization for 54 years.
"Even though my dad is not here anymore and I can't do anything for him, there are still all those other veterans," said Morrison. "What they did is why we can be here today and why we do what we do. It's why we can belong to these organizations, why we can go to church, and why we can do everything that we do. It's to honor them and to honor all veterans."
The American Legion has two groups in Tahlequah: Post 50 and Post 135. Both are made up of people who served active duty during wartime, going all the way back to World War I. Due to the Gulf War and War On Terrorism, anyone who has served since 1990 can join the American Legion.
Wolfe has also been a member of American Legion Post 50 in Tahlequah. She said the two American Legions give locals vets the option of two atmospheres. At one point, the two posts were together, but the groups split in the 1970s.
"I think at the time, the Vietnam veterans were starting to join and Post 50 didn't have a bar," Wolfe said. "We didn't have the social life that they have out at 135, so we kind of separated that way. Now they have a lovely post out at 135, so people who are interested in that kind of a social life, we recommend that they join out there. Otherwise, we'd certainly love to have anybody that would like to join at Post 50."
The American Legion also has Auxiliary and Sons of American Legion groups, for relatives of veterans.
American Legion Post 135 Commander Tommy Pack, who is currently training troops at Fort Irwin in California, said Post 135 is a place were service members can "understand each other" and enjoy a sense of camaraderie.
"We have like a brotherhood over there," said Pack. "Since I've been commander and my team has been helping out, we started a family [atmosphere] over there a year and a half ago. If you come in and we get to know you pretty good, you'll get a handshake or a hug just to make you feel like you're welcome."
The Cherokee Nation Veterans Center is another place for individuals to gather and receive help, as the CNVC often hosts social nights and offers assistance to veterans that need it.
"The veterans center is actually for all veterans now," said Director Barbara Foreman, director of CNVC. "We have opened it up this past year for all veterans and widows of veterans. It's just a place for veterans and widows to come to try and receive different types of help, depending on what their need is."
This is the first in a four-part series on local veterans organizations. The second part will focus on what services and activities the veterans groups offer.
Local veterans describe the services and activities their groups provide.