ADA, OK – The Chickasaw Nation was presented with a USS Arizona Medal of Freedom produced by the Lauren F. Bruner USS Arizona Memorial Foundation. Jesse Lindsey presented the Medal of Freedom to Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby on behalf of the foundation and its crew of 1,512.
“It is an honor to accept the Medal of Freedom on behalf of the Chickasaw Nation in honoring Henry Nolatubby, who was a Chickasaw warrior and a United States Marine,” said Governor Anoatubby. “This is a very big deal for our people, and my hope is that through the Lauren Bruner Foundation, the USS Arizona Medal of Freedom will bring honor to our people in the name of Henry in order that future generations of young people might come to learn the important story of the USS Arizona and the men who gave their lives for freedom aboard the ship.”
At the request of the USS Arizona Memorial Foundation, the Chickasaw Nation sent Lindsey, Chickasaw Nation Dance Troupe Manager, to Sylacauga, AL, to formally bless steel from the battleship used in the medals in December 2021. The Medals of Freedom produced by the USS Arizona Memorial Foundation contains original steel from the USS Arizona, destroyed Dec. 7, 1941, by Japanese forces in a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, HI. The steel for the medals was recovered from the ship’s superstructure, not taken from the USS Arizona Memorial. The USS Arizona’s superstructure was removed from Pearl Harbor and deposited miles away. The steel was given to Lauren Bruner over a 12-year period and was gifted to him from various Navy commands at Pearl Harbor.
“This is all about Henry Nolatubby,” said Lindsey said. “I was there blessing the steel because he is Chickasaw. We were giving notice to our creator to put power into the metal.”
Pfc. Nolatubby was among those killed aboard the USS Arizona. A Chickasaw and U.S. Marine, he is recognized as being the first First American killed during World War II (WWII). Nolatubby’s remains have not been recovered from the USS Arizona wreckage.
Dressed in Chickasaw regalia, Lindsey sang stomp dance songs devoted to warriors as the steel was placed into a crucible for melting.
“During the blessing, I was singing songs we stomp dance to,” said Lindsey. “This included a song in honor of our warriors. It is our own song. We have sung it for thousands of years. I was singing as a prayer and blessing.”
What remains of the battleship is considered hallowed ground. The USS Arizona was among nearly 20 vessels sunk or badly damaged in the attack that propelled America’s participation in WWII.
In total, more than 2,400 Americans died during the attack on Pearl Harbor. An additional 1,000 were wounded. Of those lost, 1,177 were crew members of USS Arizona. The bodies of many crewmen were never recovered.
Officials decided the USS Arizona would remain where it sank, serving as both a funeral and memorial site for those who died that day. The U.S. National Park Service cares for the wreck of the USS Arizona.
Ed McGrath, Executive Director of the Lauren F. Bruner USS Arizona Memorial Foundation, learned the story of Pfc. Nolatubby while researching individual crewmembers serving on the battleship. Leadership within the USS Arizona Memorial Foundation decided the ship’s connection to First Americans and WWII deserved recognition.
“Henry’s story needs to be told throughout all of America, which is what we will do through the donations for the Medal of Freedom,” said McGrath. “Our foundation wants to be able to explain to young people that there was a First American aboard the USS Arizona. He gave his life so Americans can enjoy and exercise their freedoms every day.”
After much discussion, the USS Arizona Memorial Foundation concluded the best way to honor Pfc. Nolatubby, along with other First Americans, was to invite a Chickasaw Nation representative to bless the steel used to cast all USS Arizona Medals of Freedom.
“The Chickasaw Nation is respectful of its heritage and is respectful of Henry and his service aboard the USS Arizona,” said McGrath. “I think the Chickasaw Nation realizes Henry, along with the other service members aboard the USS Arizona, are true American heroes.”
According to the National Museum of the American Indian, 44,000 of an estimated First American population of nearly 400,000 First Americans saw active duty during WWII, which is approximately 10 percent of its population.