(Courtesy Cherokee Nation)
(L to R) Vietnam Veteran Donald Vann, Iraq Veteran Steven Morales and Iraq Veteran Jake Stopp were honored for their military service during the June 10 Cherokee Nation Tribal Council meeting.

Renowned Artist Donald Vann, Two Other Veterans Honored by Cherokees

June 13, 2013

The Cherokee Nation honored three veterans, including renowned Indian artist Donald Vann and two Iraq War veterans, with the Cherokee Medal of Patriotism at its June Tribal Council meeting.

Vann and Jake Andrew Stopp, 30, both of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and Steven Morales, 28, of Dermott, Arkansas, received a medal and plaque from Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief Joe Crittenden June 10, acknowledging their service to the country.

“I did insignias on helicopters and insignias on CO’s helmets,” Vann, 63, said, in a Nation press release. “I did some Indian images on the noses of some helicopters, like feather tomahawks or a cartoon-looking Indian coming at you with a bow and arrow and a knife. Most of our helicopters were named after Indians at that time, like Iroquois and Apache. And stuff like that got me points with my ranking officers.”

Vann and the other veterans thanked the tribe for the honor. “A lot of veterans feel like citizens forget about us, because they don’t understand the things that we’ve been through,” said Morales, who served in Iraq. “So it means everything that my tribe was able to honor us and make me feel like there are still people out there that appreciate us. It makes it all worth it.”

Vann was born and raised near Stilwell, Oklahoma. He spent much of his life in nature, camping and hunting with his grandfather as a boy, then as an artist studying nature and wildlife. He credits his former junior high principal Neil Morton, agent Nettie Wheeler and fellow artist Jerome Tiger for helping him become a true artist. Vann volunteered in June of 1968 for service in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and was assigned to the 1st Calvary Aviation Division. He served as a door gunner dropping off and evacuating soldiers in helicopters.

In November of 1969, his helicopter crash landed in the field. Only Vann and his crew chief survived. He was sent back to the U.S. and recuperated in a base hospital at Fort Sill. He later rejoined his unit in Fort Hood, Texas, and was put on desk duty. 

From 1970 to when he was honorably discharged in 1973, he served 16 cycles as a drill instructor. During his service, he was awarded the Purple Heart, National Defense, Good Conduct, Vietnam Campaign and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medals. Vann lived in Austin, Texas, for nearly 40 years before making his home and studio in Tahlequah with his family. His paintings are done with qualities that allow the viewer to share some of the inner facets of the world as he sees it and are sold in galleries in around the world. Vann signed autographed copies of his posters during the meeting. 

Stopp was born in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and raised in Tahlequah. In November of 2004 he married Nicole Barnard and joined the U.S. Army. He completed his training in Fort Benning, Georgia, and was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. There he was assigned to the 2nd Brigade 4th Infantry Division and deployed to the Babil Province Iraq in October 2005. His first combat deployment lasted more than 12 months. He served as a rifleman, grenadier and machine gunner. His unit was placed in the center of the violence to protect the general population. He was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge and an Army Accommodation Medal, and was promoted to the rank of specialist.

In August 2008, while serving with the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division in Fort Benning, Stopp was promoted to the rank of sergeant. He served his second and final tour to Iraq from October 2009-10.  After Iraq, Stopp and his family moved to Vilseck, Germany, where he served as a squad leader, squadron master gunner and staff sergeant. He earned numerous awards and citations, including the Expert Infantry Badge and an honorable discharge in June 2013. Stopp currently lives in Tahlequah with his wife and children, Dylan and Haley, and plans to pursue higher education at Northeastern State University.

Morales was born in Lake Village, Arkansas, to Joyce Horn and Carlos Morales and grew up in Hubbard, Texas. He enlisted in the U.S. Army after high school and attended basic training at Fort Sill and Airborne School in Fort Benning. He was then assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and soon deployed to Haiti for eight months and Somalia for six months. After Air Assault School at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, he transferred to Fort Richardson, Alaska, and was assigned to the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment.

Morales deployed with the 501st to Afghanistan for 13 months and later deployed to Iraq for 18 months. While in Iraq, he sustained injuries when one of his soldiers stepped on a pressure plate IED. Because of his injuries and jumping over 40 times from aircrafts, he retired from the Army after eight years with the rank of staff sergeant. His awards include the Purple Heart, Army Achievement, Army Good Conduct, National Service Defense and several other medals. Morales lives in Dermott with his wife and fellow veteran, Joyce, and their children, Kristos, 10, and Eleina, 3.

Each month Cherokee Nation recognizes Cherokee service men and women for their sacrifices and as a way to demonstrate the high regard in which all veterans are held by the tribe. Native Americans, including Cherokees, are thought to have more citizens serving per capita than any other ethnic group, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. To nominate a veteran who is a Cherokee Nation citizen, please call 918-453-5541 or 800-256-0671, ext. 5541.