Many area residents who have taken time to view the half-scale replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Cherokee Casino have called it a moving experience - in some cases, moving to the point of tears.
The actual monument is at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C., but only a fraction of people from this community have been fortunate enough to see it. Some of the lucky ones have been members of the Tahlequah High School Orange Express Marching Band, who have participated some years in special events at the nation's capital. And parents who went along for the ride were similarly blessed.
In some ways, the smaller version is even better, because visitors can walk all the way around it and see the back side. There are no fees and no lines - just a solemn reminder of the many soldiers and sailors who have given their lives for this country, and whose remains have yet to be identified.
The arrival of this display has special meaning for many people here, including Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, himself a U.S. Navy veteran. It was he, Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Chief-Elect Chuck Hoskin and other tribal dignitaries who helped bring it to Tahlequah, after an entourage last year was part of a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington. They decided to get the Cherokee Nation on the list as a stop for the portable monument.
Several local veterans were part of emotional wreath-laying ceremonies here, too, when it arrived Monday. Among them was Bob Hathaway, who served in the Navy. He had this to say: "You know, the reason that old veterans go to these things is not to honor themselves; it's to honor the people who served and didn't come back. That's really what the Tomb of the Unknown is about."
The Daily Press and every other person of goodwill in Tahlequah have always held a special place for our veterans. We can never shine a spotlight too often on the members of our armed services, and the organizations that have been built to serve them. They deserve our respect, and any honors we can bestow upon them.
The monument will be on display in the casino, south of Tahlequah on U.S. Highway 62, until 6 p.m. tonight. After that, it moves on to Utah. So if you're reading this early enough on Thursday, there are still a few hours left to pay tribute, and to experience something very unique. Even if casinos aren't normally your cup of tea, make an exception this time, and take the short drive to view this special exhibit; you'll be glad you did.