HEADQUARTERS, NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md.— “My father, mother and grandparents, the way of life in North East Oklahoma, the values I grew up with, the blue collar work ethic, the cultural influence of the Native American Indian, all were part of the fabric that helped me get to where I am today,” said Vice Adm. Jeffrey Trussler, deputy chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare and director of Naval Intelligence.
Trussler was the guest speaker at Naval Air Systems Command’s (NAVAIR) Native American Indian Heritage Month event held in-person Nov. 16 at Patuxent River, Maryland, and livestreamed to all sites. He spoke to the theme “Celebrating Respect, Culture and Education,” focusing on the history of Native Americans.
Trussler was commissioned at the Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1985. Considering himself a “submariner,” among other commissions, he served as a division officer on USS Honolulu, an engineer officer on USS Tennessee, and an executive officer on USS Columbus. He commanded USS Maryland and was the first commander of Task Force 69 for the U.S. 6th Fleet in Naples, Italy.
Trussler is a native of Cherokee Nation. He was raised in Ottawa County, Oklahoma, the location of the Nine Tribes of Ottawa County. The nine tribes consist of Cherokee, Eastern Shawnee, Miami, Modoc, Ottaway, Peoria, Quapaw, Seneca-Cayuga and Wyandotte. But it was only recently that he began to research the history of where he grew up.
“It wasn’t until 2008 or 2009 when I started digging into my history,” he said. “I think everyone should look back into their heritage. Unless both your grandparents immigrated here it would be hard for you not to have Native American heritage.”
His four times great grandmother, Judith McGhee, settled in Oklahoma before the Civil War. She eventually married a Scottish trader, and was known by her Cherokee name “Tsu Ta” Cochran. She died during the Civil War, as her family fought for the Confederacy.
According to Trussler, the makeup of Oklahoma constantly changed as settlers moved west.
“Native Americans were open to learning to read, write and speak English,” he said. “Some of the tribes welcomed the missionaries to come and set up schools. There was a lot of trade. There was already a lot of intermixing between Native Americans, African slaves and the nearby settlers.”
According to Trussler, there was a split within the Cherokee Nation in the early 1800s when some made a deal – The New Echota Treaty of May 1836 – that did not represent the wishes of the whole tribe. This treaty initiated the removal of approximately 16,000 Cherokee Indians from the homes in Alabama and Georgia to Oklahoma, otherwise known as Indian Territory.
He also discussed the Indian removal act of 1830, which forced the relocation of Native Americans to Oklahoma, what is now known as the Trail of Tears. Approximately 100,000 indigenous people were forced from their homes, including Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole tribes.
“It’s a messy, complicated story,” he said.
Trussler also discussed the history of Native Americans in the military. It was a “fascinating part of my journey,” he said.
Trussler discussed Adm. Joseph James “Jocko” Clark, who was a member of the Cherokee Nation and commanded aircraft carriers during World War II.
“He is the first Native American graduate of the United States Naval Academy and became one of the first naval aviators,” he said. “He retired as a four star admiral.”
Ernest Evans was the commanding officer of USS Johnston, also of Cherokee and Creek Nations from Oklahoma. He posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle off Samar in World War II. The battle was one of the largest naval battles in history, which took place in the Philippine Sea off Samar Island in 1944. USS Johnson was sunk and Evans was killed during the battle.
“In the rear without order, Evans ordered his ship right into the force against Japanese battleships and cruisers,” said Trussler. “That action so confused the Japanese they backed off because they thought there was something going on that they couldn’t see.”
Tressler concluded his presentation by stating, “We are the most diverse country in the world and a big piece of that is the people that were here first.”
The Native American Indian Heritage Month event was recorded and is available for viewing here.
National American Indian Heritage Month is observed during the month of November each year. The observance recognizes American Indians for their respect for natural resources and the Earth, having served with valor in our nation’s conflicts and for their many distinct and important contributions to the United States.
For more information on NAVAIR’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, visit https://jobs.navair.navy.mil/NAVAIR-Diversity-Inclusion.