Bill John Baker
Cherokee Nation was recently bestowed a great honor by the U.S. Navy, which has decided to name its latest rescue ship after our tribal nation. The forthcoming USNS Cherokee Nation will be launched in summer of 2021 and will be a testament to the service and contributions the Cherokee people have made to the Navy and Marine Corps.
The naming of a ship is the highest honor the Navy issues, and as patriots of this great country, we are extremely honored by this distinction. It is a true testament to generations of Cherokee men and women who have humbly and bravely served in the United States military.
Valor, strength and honor are the traits we admire in our military heroes, and those are traits I admire in my Cherokee heroes, as well. This special announcement came at the annual Claremore Hall of Fame ceremony where Joseph James “Jocko” Clark was inducted. It was a well-deserved honor, as Admiral Clark remains an inspiration to Cherokees and all Native people across the country. He is the highest-ranking Native American naval officer in U.S. history, and he was the first Native American to graduate from the Naval Academy in 1917. Admiral Clark commanded the USS Suwannee and USS Yorktown during the Battle of Midway in World War II and went on to be the commander of the Seventh Fleet. He is buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
My personal Navy heroes include my father, Tim Baker, who proudly served during WWII. He was an ordnanceman and was responsible for arming, loading and firing weapons, and he was a role model for me growing up. Also, two of my closest friends and important members of my administration served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. Deputy Principal Chief S. Joe Crittenden served as a radio specialist on the USS Princeton, and Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin worked on the flight deck of the USS Independence. Their commitment to country and duty is sincere, and it’s inspiring every day. It is why they are such respected leaders within our tribe.
The Cherokee Nation has a deep and rich history in American military service, and thousands of Cherokees served and continue to serve in the Navy. Our heritage as sailors and seamen is something we take great pride in. Our Cherokee people have contributed in every major battle and war ever fought in this country and continue to serve in the Armed Forces in some of the highest rates per ethnicity.
Cherokees are a strong, resilient people, and we are privileged to soon have a U.S. ship at sea that reflects both our country and tribe’s history and values.
This is the fifth U.S. ship to be named in honor of the Cherokee people. Previous ships include a gunboat that served during the Civil War and two boats commissioned during World War I, and the last Cherokee namesake was a World War II era tugboat.
Bill John Baker is the principal chief for the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.