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Vietnam veteran, possibly first Florida Native American to die of COVID-19, Seminoles say

Illustration of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, COVID-19. (CDC/TNS)

Don Osceola, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and member of the Seminole Tribe, died Wednesday night from COVID-19. He may be the first Native American in Florida to die from the virus, the Seminole Tribe of Florida said.

Since April 17, Osceola, 77, had been hospitalized at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood. He had initially tested negative for COVID-19, then tested positive.

Osceola served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, where he earned medals for meritorious service including the Purple Heart, which is awarded to soldiers who have been wounded or killed while serving. He earned the Purple Heart when a bullet hit the tip of his nose, his daughter Deanna said in a statement.

“He taught me by example that no matter how bad things are, as long as you’re connected to the creator, things will work out for the best,” she said. “Under any stress or pressure, I always saw him calm. He also liked to learn a lot.”

Osceola was born a Seminole and grew up on the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation. He became a member of the Miccosukee Tribe when he married his first wife, Dorothy Billie, who was a member of the Miccosukees. They had one child, Deanna.

He is survived by his second wife, Mary Osceola, a member of the Seminole Tribe, and two children, Deanna and his son Christian.

Osceola pursued theological studies in Gainesville, and attended Florida International University, where he studied architecture. He worked for the National Park Service at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. He also worked as a police officer with the Miccosukee Police Department, and later worked in the Housing Department of the Miccosukee Tribe.

Mitchell Cypress, the president of Seminole Tribe of Florida Inc., the business development division of the Tribe, said Osceola was often recognized for his many medals and was called a “Little Audie Murphy,” one of the most decorated American combat veterans of World War II.

Funeral services are pending with the Akin-Davis Funeral Home of Clewiston.


© 2020 Miami Herald