Donald Ross was born in Tahlequah, but he graduated from Lincoln High School in Fort Gibson because, in 1947-'48, Tahlequah schools were segregated.
Ross, 89, joined the U.S. Army in 1948 to further his education and to see the world.
Claiming to come from a military family, Ross' stepfather, Curtis Vann, of Tahlequah, served in the Army, and others who served include an uncle, Jesse McNack, and several nieces, nephews and a grandson.
Ross would "absolutely" recommend service to others.
"In fact, I spoke with my grandson numerous times about joining, and he recently graduated in October from basic training and is now training to be a medic with the rangers," said Ross.
He traveled throughout his 20 years of service, and was stationed in France, Germany, Vietnam, and Hawaii before statehood.
"Serving in Vietnam was bittersweet. While I wanted to serve my country by fighting in the conflict, it was difficult to live with the threat of death hanging over your head each day and to have lost so many friends and comrades in battle," he said.
Ross said he appreciated the beauty and history of the European countries.
"Living in France between 1957 and 1960 was an eye-opening experience in that the French lived among us and embraced African Americans, while back in Tahlequah and the rest of the United states, African Americans lived through segregation," said Ross.
Through serving, Ross said he gained a true sense of patriotism, along with a commitment to family and friends.
"I gained a sense of patriotism and pride for my country, and a discipline that has guided me throughout my life, professionally and personally," he said. "The hardest part was being away from family during military assignments - missing out on numerous family functions and memories."
While in the Army, Ross met Lois, as she was serving as a member of the Women's Army Corps.
They were married for 63 years before her passing. The union brought eight children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
After leaving the Army, Ross worked for the Department of Corrections in New Jersey for 22 years before retiring in 1994 and relocating to Tahlequah.
He said his time in the military has assisted him with medical benefits, property taxes and tax-exempt status.
It hurts him to see or hear about homeless veterans, he said.
"In the richest and most prosperous country in the world, the term 'homeless veteran' should not exist. There has to be a more definitive way to address homelessness and the mental/PTSD issues that vets face," said Ross.
While retired, Ross stays active by volunteering at Feed My Sheep, and he is a member of St. Brigid Catholic Church, American Legion Post 50, and Veterans of Foreign Wars.