Family, friends, co-workers and dignitaries braved cold weather Thursday to attend the re-dedication of the Muskogee’s VA Medical Center as the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center.
The ceremony was held at the Muskogee Civic Center arena.
Montgomery, who died in 2002 at age 84, was one of only five Native Americans to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, described how Montgomery was determined to help other veterans long after retirement.
“After he went to work at the VBA (Veterans Benefit Administration), he worked 750 hours taking those vets from the parking lot to the facility (VA Medical Center).”
Montgomery, part Cherokee, was born July 23, 1917, near Long in Sequoyah County. He attended the Chilocco Indian School and graduated high school at Carnegie in 1936.
He attended Bacone College, then furthered his education at the University of Redlands in Redlands, Calif., where he earned a degree in physical education in 1940.
He received a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant shortly before sailing for Salerno, Italy.
Montgomery, who was 25 when he served as lieutenant, commanded an Army platoon fortified against the Germans at a beach near Anzio, south of Rome. His medal of honor was a result of an event on Feb. 22, 1944. Montgomery single-handedly attacked three enemy positions that endangered platoons under his command. His action resulted in 11 enemy deaths and the capture of 32 prisoners.
After five years of service, Montgomery worked as a contact representative for the Veterans Administration. When the Korean War began in 1950, he served as an instructor in Fort Benning, Ga. He was discharged in 1953 and returned to work at the Veterans Administration (now Veterans Affairs). He retired in 1972.
Near the end of the re-dedication ceremony, Montgomery’s widow, Joyce Montgomery asked to speak. Standing in front of the stage while Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith held the microphone for her, Joyce impressed the crowd with her impromptu remarks.
“You’ll never know how much I appreciate this,” she said. “Jack would be very pleased, but he would also say, ‘I see no reason to change the name.’ We never fussed, but he wouldn’t do anything unless he wanted to. Sometimes I would tell him, ‘Jack, you’re taking stubborn pills.’ I think that was one of the reasons he was a Medal of Honor winner. He would be so happy. I can’t express to you the thanks.”
According to both Don Nichols, national veteran employment officer, and Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief Joe Grayson Jr., Montgomery was a humble man who didn’t want to be singled out; someone who wanted to blend in with his fellow soldiers.
Joyce Montgomery remembered how she would carry his ceremonial Medal of Honor in her purse whenever her husband was invited to official events.
“He would always wait until the last minute, then we would take it out of my purse, and he would put it on,” she said. “Then as soon as we left, he would want to take it off.”
Montgomery’s sister, Hazel Johnson, and his niece, Jackie Landler, were at the ceremony and fondly remembered his traits.
Johnson was present when President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented Montgomery with the Medal of Honor. Once again, Montgomery was uncomfortable been singled out from his fellow soldiers.
“Before we got out of the White House, he said, ‘Somebody take this off of me,’” she said.
Montgomery chose to buried at Fort Gibson National Cemetery rather than the more prestigious Arlington National Cemetery.
Awards and honors earned by Jack C. Montgomery:
• Congressional Medal of Honor.
• Silver Star.
• Combat Infantryman's Badge.
• Purple Heart with cluster.
• Military Cross of Valor from the Italian Government.
• Oklahoma Distinguished Service Cross.
• Past President 45th Infantry Division Association.
• Council of American Indians Award as Outstanding Indian of 1964.
• University of Redlands, Redlands, Calif., Alumni Association Distinguished Service Award, 1970.
• Distinguished Baconian Award 1973 from Bacone College.
• Inducted into Chilocco Alumni Association Hall of Fame, 1984.
• Inducted into the University of Redlands Athletic Hall of Fame, 1986, University of Redlands, Redlands, Calif.
Re-dedication ceremony honors Jack C. Montgomery
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