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Press Release

Release Date: August 24, 2021
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

ADA, Okla. – Richard Lewis, a Chickasaw elder and veteran living in Pickett, dedicated months of effort to the creation of a room-sized memorial for all past, present and future U.S. military service members.

“I’ve always thought highly of the military. I have great respect for the men and women service members in the past and present, and people going into the future,” Mr. Lewis said.

Mr. Lewis put meticulous care into the selection of every item. American flags, signs with messages reading, “Thank you for your service,” an old radio which was used out in the field, canteens, mess kits, statues of eagles, dog tags, helmets and military jackets from every branch are highlights of his collection.

An anecdote from when he started the collection is also a reminder of where his project began: in a bedroom.

“I was going to put a bed in the room and I said to myself, ‘That can’t be a regular bed,’” Mr. Lewis said. “Then I finally found my old wooden Army cot and two of the wool blankets, because, you know, we were issued two blankets, one to cover the body and the other used as a pillow. That cot is what’s in there right now.”

Mr. Lewis dedicated one wall of the room to fallen soldiers. A local metalworker constructed a statue of the battle cross for him, complete with helmet, rifle, dog tags and boots.

“The fallen soldier wall, I really took that to heart. I want to do something extra special for that wall,” he said. “I’ve got my POW MIA flag up, which says, ‘You are not forgotten.’ I have three sets of dog tags that say, ‘Rest in peace, honor and respect.’ I have a jewelry box shaped as a casket with a flag draped over it. I have got another flag folded as it is supposed to be at the end of service.”

He has one final piece to add: a plaque explaining the meaning of coins left on the graves of veterans. Such coins are a message to the loved ones of deceased veterans showing others have been by to pay their respects.

Mr. Lewis began the collection as a memorial for family members who have served, but he said that after looking for all the items, people started telling him it was heartwarming and asking him to share it. Others pitched in for the collection as well.

“I was looking for a picture of Iwo Jima,” Mr. Lewis explained, alluding to the famous “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” photograph. “I was telling this lady about it. She went home and told her husband who was in the service, and they called me up to say they found the picture and wanted to donate it to me. So I’ve got that hanging on this wall right now.”

Coming from a military family, it is no surprise Mr. Lewis dedicated 12 years to his country in the Army National Guard.

His father, David Lewis Jr., offered four years of service as a U.S. Marine. His uncle, Dennis James, served four years in the U.S. Navy. His sister, Master Sgt. Diane Jobe, dedicated two decades to service in the U.S. Air Force. In his extended family, many more uncles and cousins served.

“The only thing I regret is getting out early,” Mr. Lewis said. “I served 12 years. I regret not staying in eight more to get to 20 years.”

He went on to work with the Chickasaw Nation for 23 years, retiring in 2020.

Mr. Lewis has had a lifelong respect for service members. He makes sure to voice his respect even in everyday scenarios.

“Whenever I see a veteran – like here in Ada at Prairie Kitchen or Walmart, it doesn’t matter where – when I see a veteran wearing a military hat, I go up to them and say, ‘Thank you for your service,’” Mr. Lewis explained. “I have people come and say the same thing to me, and that is a really, really good feeling when someone says that to a veteran.”

With his military memorial, Mr. Lewis said he just wants to express how much he thinks about the people who served in the military and all of his fallen comrades.

“They all protected our freedom. That’s the way I see it, that’s why I think so highly of the military people who have served or will serve in the future,” he said.