“I’m very thankful for the American Legion proposing this and bringing it up. It made me very happy,” Youngdeer’s son Merritt Youngdeer told Tribal Council after the vote. “He’s not able to get around that well anymore, and your days seem kind of long when you’re in your easy chair, and it’s cold. And you hear some news like this, and it makes him feel good. We appreciate this council. He’s a proud American. He’s a proud member of this tribe. This is a very wonderful honor to be bestowed upon him.”
Youngdeer was born April 13, 1922, in the Ravensford area of the Qualla Boundary, attending the Cherokee Boarding School and enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps at age 18 to fight in World War II. As a 1st Marine Raider, he deployed to the Pacific Theater, where he fought on Tulagi and was shot in the face by a sniper during the Battle of Bloody Ridge on Guadalcanal. After a months-long recovery, he returned to duty on Okinawa, remaining there through the war’s end.
After the war, Youngdeer became an army paratrooper and then a policeman, working on Lakota, Choctaw, Apache, Anishinabe and Inuit lands, among others. However, he eventually returned home to Cherokee and served as principal chief from 1983 to 1987. His autobiography, The Memoirs of Robert Youngdeer: Marine Chief and Proud American, was published by the Museum of the Cherokee Indian Press in 2012.
“Those who enjoy the freedom for which this brother paid such a high price, as he laid face-down in the dirt, a bullet through his head, his life’s blood draining from his body on a faraway Pacific island, wish to honor his sacrifice as a Warrior Chief who has dedicated his life in service to his people and to his country,” reads the resolution declaring him a Beloved Man.
“Beloved Man” is a title worn only by a select few throughout Cherokee history. It was traditionally bestowed upon warriors who were too old to go to war but were valued for their integrity, good character and service to the tribe. Jerry Wolfe, also a WWII veteran, was given the title in 2013, but before that the last recorded instance of a Beloved Man was Little Turkey in the early 1800s.
“I have been privileged to serve the veterans community here on our boundary for over 25 years, and I have known and grown to love and appreciate so many of our men and women who have served,” Steve Youngdeer Cherokee American Legion Post 134 Commander Lew Harding told Council, when presenting the post’s request that Youngdeer receive the title. “This dear brother, to me, is the most inspirational of all.”
Councilmembers expressed enthusiastic support for granting the honor, with Chairman Adam Wachacha, of Snowbird, requesting that the resolution be read in Cherokee as well before taking the vote.
“Being in the military, a lot of awards are given out after death, so this will be something extraordinary for himself and the family and you as an American Legion, for him to be presented with this title of Beloved Man,” Wachacha said.
The resolution will become effective once Principal Chief Richard Sneed ratifies it, which he plans to do soon.