Published July 17, 2016
TAHLEQUAH — The Cherokee Nation awarded the Medal of Patriotism Tuesday to the late Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, a Cherokee Nation citizen from Roland who was killed during a rescue mission in Iraq in 2015.
Wheeler’s grandparents, Jack and Lily Shamblin, and his brother Zach Wheeler accepted the medal from Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden acknowledging Wheeler’s service to the country.
“I know he was proud of his heritage. We appreciate everything the Cherokee Nation has done for our family,” Lily Shamblin said.
Master Sgt. Wheeler was born in Roland in 1975 and graduated from Muldrow High School in 1994. He entered the U.S. Army a year later as an infantryman and completed his training at Fort Benning, Georgia. After training, he was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington. Wheeler worked his way up the ranks from infantryman to anti-tank section leader. In 2004, Wheeler was assigned to U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
In October 2015, acting on a tip that dozens of Islamic State held hostages were about to be slaughtered, Wheeler stormed a prison in northeastern Iraq, rescuing the captives in a firefight that ended with his death. The actions of Wheeler and his fellow soldiers freed about 70 hostages. He was the first member of the U.S. military to be killed in action while fighting against ISIS.
“Any man or woman who puts on a U.S. military uniform is making a great personal sacrifice, but the families at home praying for them also make great personal sacrifices,” Deputy Chief Crittenden said. “The Cherokee Nation is eternally grateful to Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler for his service and to his family for supporting his choice to protect our freedom at home and deliver freedom to oppressed people in other countries.”
During his military career, Wheeler was deployed at least 17 times, most of those in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wheeler leaves behind his wife, Ashley and four sons, Zachariah, Matthew, Joshua and David Paul, as well as his grandparents, brother and other family and friends.