First COVID-19 death of a Native American in Florida reported

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – Don Osceola, 77, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran, passed away Wednesday night (April 30) from complications related to the coronavirus. He is believed to be the first Native American in Florida to succumb to the lethal disease.

Don Osceola

Mr. Osceola had been hospitalized at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood since April 17 and died there. He had initially tested negative for COVID-19, then tested positive.

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

Mr. Osceola graduated from Clewiston High School, according to his daughter.

He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was on active duty during the Vietnam War, where he earned many medals for valor during the war.

His medals and awards included: National Defense Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with one Silver Campaign Star and four Bronze Campaign Stars, Vietnam Campaign Medal with device -60, Purple Heart Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Good Conduct Medal with oak cluster, Sharpshooter Badge, Combat Action Ribbon, Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation, Gallantry Cross Medal with Color Palm, Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation, Civil Action Medal, First Class Color with Palm.

Mr. Osceola participated in the following major campaigns as a Platoon Sergeant with Lima Company 3rd Battalion 9th Marines 3rd Marine Division REIN FMF Vietnam:

• 1967 Participated operations against the Viet Cong in the vicinity of Dong Ha, RVN;

• Participated in Operations Prairie II;

• Participated in Operation Prairie III;

• Participated in Operation Prairie IV;

• Participated in Operation Hickory;

• Participated in Operation Cimarron (wounded in action);

• Participated in Operation Buffalo;

• Participated in Operation Hickory II;

• Participated in Operation Kingfisher July 1967;

• Participated in Operation Kentucky;

• Participated in Operation Kingfisher Oct 1967;

• Participated in Operation Lancaster.

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

According to his daughter, Mr. Osceola told her his first few months in Vietnam were “really scary.” His platoon came under fire more than once, she said, including one time when bullets were flying inches away from him. He earned a Purple Heart when a bullet hit the tip of his nose.

“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.”

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

Following the death of his first wife, Dorothy, he married Mary Osceola, a member of the Seminole Tribe. They raised one son, Christian Osceola. Both survive him.

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

NOTE: This story was updated May 1. Don Osceola served in the U.S. Marine Corps. The original version incorrectly stated he was in the Army.

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