First Native American inducted into Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame

Lawton_In the history of the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame there have been no Native Americans on the list - until now.  Master Gunnery Sergeant Vernon Tsoodle joins the elite list of honorees.  7News' own Neely Tsoodle talked with her uncle in a very special interview.  The entire family is proud of Vernon's many accomplishments, both in his personal and military life.  But no accomplishment is as special to Vernon as this award.

This honor recognizes his years fighting for his country while representing Oklahoma - "The Land of the Red Man" - and Native America.  Vernon spent almost 25 years in the military as a Marine and remembers every conflict, situation, victory or defeat as if it happened yesterday.

He's seen his share of history.  Like the Korean Conflict in November of 1950.  His unit was outnumbered almost eight to one by Chinese forces and the Marines needed him to fight.  They pulled him from his communications job and handed him a machine gun - he hadn't shot a weapon like that for years, but he did it, and he did it well.  "A lot of Chinese came out with Purple Hearts," he joked.

It was a bloody battle with a lot of US casualties - the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir.  It was cold with temperatures at 40 below and despite this, Vernon and his fellow Marines succeeded.  If you see his wall full of medals you get a small idea of all that he has accomplished.

One of his proudest moments is when he successfully organized the first ever Native American Marine Corps Veterans Association - which started as a celebration of the Marine Corps birthday.  "They [the Marines} have a ball.  But, most Native Americans are kind of shy," he says.  "They don't quite see being in a formal dress and that type of thing.  So, we started our own organization."

Vernon Tsoodle's military career is long past and he now resides in Meers with his wife of 58 years, Jimmie.  Both say their lives have been a roller coaster ride - but, they wouldn't change a thing.  He was given the honor of naming the street he lives on and chose "Chosin Road" as its name - since that's one battle he will always remember.  "[I was told] this is going to follow you for the rest of your life, and by George it does," he says.  "As old as I am now, I still get dewy eyed when I hear the Marine Corps Hymn."

And, he has another honor coming his way.  In addition to the Hall of Fame induction, he'll be featured in a National Geographic book later this month called "Warriors in Uniform".  The Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame ceremony will be held Thursday night at 6:30pm at the Gaylord Center at OCU in Oklahoma City.

Vernon remains humble despite being honored by his state and country along with being the first Native American inductee.  "I didn't do anything outstanding, like win a Congressional Medal," he says.  "I just did my duty."

7News congratulates all 10 inductees.