OKLA. CITY — EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a series of profiles on the four Edmond-area veterans who will be inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame Nov. 9. Maj. Gen. Rita Aragon, of Edmond, is today’s subject. Capt. Boyd L. “Bo” Barclay, a Deer Creek area resident and Vietnam veteran, will be profiled in Aug. 25’s Edmond Sun.
Sitting in her Capitol complex office, Oklahoma Secretary of Veterans Affairs Rita Aragon is surrounded by mementos and memories of her extraordinary life. Framed works by Enoch Kelly Haney and a dreamcatcher hang on one wall.
Aragon’s great grandparents on her father’s side, who were Cherokees from North Carolina and Tennessee, came to Oklahoma during the land run era. Her mother’s family were Choctaw from Alabama and Mississippi; her great-great-grandmother was full blood Choctaw.
When someone joins the military, they inquire as to their ethnicity.
“I put Native American, and never really thought about it again until I became a general officer. All of a sudden I get this phone call from the Pentagon saying, ‘You are the first woman of Native American ancestry to become a general officer.’”
Aragon said that ancestry means a great deal to her. Native Americans are known as the continent’s original great warriors and members of today’s U.S. military are known as warriors.
One in 10 Native Americans serve in the U.S. military today, Aragon said. Some Indians talk about being the first people to inhabit what would become Oklahoma, she noted.
“It’s still all about defending the land that we love,” Aragon said. “And there’s that great warrior ethos that’s passed down, saying ‘We still defend this country.’”
Aragon said her parents, who married young, were extremely bright but did not have the financial means to go to college. Her father had a 38-year career working at Tinker Air Force Base. Her mother also went to work. They were of the mindset that you save before buying an item, that you don’t use credit, Aragon said.
“They were both very patriotic and they both knew that education was the key out of poverty,” Aragon said. “We had no indoor plumbing in our house until I was 12 years old.”
Her parents paid for her college all the way through her master’s degree.
On another wall in Aragon’s office hangs a framed image from her home town of Dale — a small community located northwest of Shawnee along Interstate 40.
Aragon’s close-knit family goes way back in Dale, a community they still serve. Her father has helped maintain a local cemetery for more than 30 years. Aragon’s husband, who died a couple of years ago, is buried there. When members of the community were ill, her mother would often nurse them back to health.
Her parents laid the groundwork for her choice to serve in the military, Aragon said.