“I felt like those [Mvskoke] veterans that have served this nation deserved more.”—Honor Guard Commander Thomas Yahola
Using tradition to comfort families of fallen veterans
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma — Tradition and ceremony. From the infantry’s blue cord to building number one on all military posts. These are often under appreciated and overlooked facets of military service, but at the core of what one becomes a part of when they join.
They are even present upon death to provide some solace. There is an indelible sense of pride, respect and even closure that comes from the honors given to a fallen soldier or veteran in recognition of their service and sacrifice at their passing.
Prior to the formation of the Mvskoke Nation Honor Guard, many Creek veterans were not receiving these rites.
Rites like the firing of three volleys representing the deceased has been properly cared for, the playing of Taps honoring the extinguishing of a life and the folding and presentation of the flag to the family signifying the country’s appreciation.
MNHG Commander Thomas Yahola noticed the absence and recognized the need for these honors with the passing of his father, when the flag was unceremoniously presented to his mother by a funeral director.
“I felt like those [Mvskoke] veterans that have served this nation deserved more,” Yahola said.
It was this experience that later gave birth to the Este Cate Veterans, the predecessor group to MNHG
The Este Cate Veterans formed as an informal group of veterans in the Wetumka area with a simple objective: to bring recognition to the tribal members that have served.
But as time passed and participation increased, so did the desire to do more.
“We knew from experience that some of our deceased [Mvskoke] veterans were not receiving the proper military rites,” Yahola said.
It was the decision to remedy this absence of ceremony that began the transformation of a small informal unit of Native veterans into the Mvskoke Nation’s Honor Guard.
The Este Cate Veterans reached out to the Seminole Nation Honor Guard for guidance on how to properly begin.
SNHG went so far as to instruct the fledgling crew on the protocols involving the colors (flags), formations and weapon handling for the honors carried out at veterans’ funerals and even loaned the new unit some rifles.
Yahola, serving on the National Council at the time, authored legislation that formally established the Mvskoke Nation Honor Guard and provided for some funding by the Nation.
Since 1999, MNHG has grown to include 20 committed members, which at times must split into teams to meet the requests for their services.
The honor guard remains open to any new recruit interested in becoming a part of the team and has an open invitation to their meetings which are held on the second Saturday of every month at the Mound Building on the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Complex in Okmulgee.
“Most of us are getting up there in age and we’re always looking for some new blood that can take over cause we’re all starting to slow down,” laughed MNHG Secretary Charles Milton.
Time may be slowing some members down, but their commitment and resolve remains untouched and undeterred.