Courtesy Cherokee Nation
Deputy Principal Chief S. Joe Crittenden, Tribal Councilors Curtis Snell and Harley Buzzard, veteran Lacy Backward, Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor.

Cherokee Nation Honored Veterans in October


During the October Cherokee Tribal Council meeting, the Cherokee Nation honored three veterans with the Cherokee Medal of Patriotism – one of the honorees is a World War II veteran.

Lacy Backward, 90, of Salina; Jeffery Simpson, 70, of Stilwell; and Randy Thomas, 54, of Sallisaw, received a medal and plaque from Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Principal Chief S. Joe Crittenden on October 21, acknowledging their service to the country.

Pf.c Backward was born March 11, 1923, to Sampson and Muggie Backward in Locust Grove. In 1943, he was drafted in the U.S. Army, completing basic training at Camp Mackall, North Carolina as a paratrooper. Following basic training he was assigned to the 11th Airborne Division that saw action in WWII.  The Division was deployed to New Guinea and the Philippine Islands with the mission to seize and secure within its zone all exits from the mountains and into Leyte Valley. Honorably discharged in 1946 with numerous honors, including the Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, and WWII Victory Medal, Backward returned to Oklahoma where he and his late wife, Luella, settled in Salina. The couple raised two children.

Staff Sgt. Thomas was born January 20, 1959, to Harvey and Bettye Thomas, in Muskogee. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves in 1982, completing basic training in San Diego. Thomas earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Northeastern State University while enlisted with the USMC Reserves – which ended in 1990. In 1998, Thomas returned to military duty by enlisting in the U.S. Air Force National Guard – where he was trained as a radio repairman. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Thomas volunteered for work overseas. There he served with the 279th Expeditionary Squadron in Al Udeid Air base in Qatar. While in Qatar, he acted as a security escort for foreign contractors and an electrical systems apprentice with the Civil Engineering Squadron’s electrical shop.

“I am real thankful to the Cherokee Nation,” Thomas said following the honoring ceremony. “The Nation has helped me through the years, and I am really humbled to be honored.”

He was honorably discharged in 2004, and received numerous honors including the Navy Meritorious Unit Citation ribbon, Cold War certificate, Air Reserve Forces Meritorious Service Medal and National Defense Service Medal.

He now lives in Sallisaw with his wife, Brenda. The couple has raised two children.

Spc. E-5 Simpson was born February 5, 1943, to Alyene Hogner, in Tahlequah. Simpson graduated from Stilwell High School in 1961, then received a degree in drafting from Oklahoma State Tech School in Okmulgee, before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1965. His basic training was completed at Fort Polk, Louisiana. The Cherokee citizen continued his topography training at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. He served 24 months with the 3rd Armor Division in Germany and five months with the 502nd Administrative Company at Fort Hood, Texas. In 1968, he was honorably discharged. Simpson worked in the Apollo Space Program at North American Rockwell out of Tulsa as a draftsman for two years following his service. Following his work with the Apollo Space Program, he went to work for T.D. Williamson in engineering and drafting where he retired in 2005 after 41 years of employment.

Simpson and his wife, Joanna, raised two daughters. They now live in the Fairfield Community near Stilwell. Simpson serves as the chairman of the Fairfield Community Organization.