Lee Gilstrap

Lieutenant Colonel Lee F. Gilstrap will be recognized for his humble legacy and inducted into the Claremore Hall of Fame posthumously on May 6. 

Gilstrap, along with Dr. Bob Blackburn and Pat Gordon, will be inducted into the Claremore Hall of Fame at 6 p.m. on May 6 at the Hard Rock Casino. Tickets are on sale for the event at claremoremoh.org. Tickets can also be purchased by calling the Museum of History at (918) 923-6490 or visiting the museum at 121 N. Weenonah Ave. The Museum of History doesn't receive any state funding and this event is its only source of revenue to fund operations throughout the year. 

They will join inspirational figures like Dr. Keith Ballard, J.M. Davis, Patti Page, W.R. Howell, Elizabeth Gordon, Will Rogers, Stuart Roosa and more in the Hall of Fame. This year will be the first time Claremore Museum of History, the J.M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum and the Oklahoma Military Academy Museum are teaming up to host the event.

The three nominees will bring the number of inductees in the Claremore Hall of Fame to 26 members.

Gilstrap has a long history of accomplishments from being the youngest recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross to being inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame and the Kappa Sigma Hall of Fame, but this barely scratches the surface of Gilstrap's legacy. 

Gilstrap's son Hays Gilstrap said he was thrilled to death when he heard about this recognition of his father. 

“He had one of those personalities that was just infectious,” Hays said. “You know the old Will Rogers cliché 'I never met a man I didn't like,' well I never met a man that didn't like Lee Gilstrap.”

Hays shared memories of his father with The Progress.

The story of Lee Gilstrap begins in 1900 in Chandler, Oklahoma. Lee quickly grew to follow in his father Major Harry Gilstrap's footsteps and became a bugler at 16-years-old for the First Oklahoma Infantry commanded by his father. 

Just after turning 18, Lee was a Bugle Boy in World War I and was carrying messages when he found several wounded U.S. soldiers in a trench. As he stopped to help, he saw another injured soldier several yards away. The wounded soldier was much larger than Lee, but he managed to get him to safety. 

Later the same day, Lee found a German rifle and captured 13 prisoners throughout the day. Lee executed the Soldier's Creed, 'I will never leave a fallen comrade.' In the process of protecting his fellow soldiers, he was shot and exposed to mustard gas – injuries that affected him into his early 40's.

Hays said his father's experience in the military at such a young age shaped how Lee looked at life.

“The experience that he had so young gave him an appreciation of life, of his country, an appreciation of what it took to sacrifice and that sacrifice is a necessary trait,” Hays said. “It's not what you are but it's what you do that makes you great. How you respond to a crisis situation, makes a person who they are.” 

After the war, Lee became a Charter member of the Oklahoma National Guard and received a degree from Oklahoma A&M (now known as Oklahoma State University) in marketing and commerce. He then went on to be a principal and a coach at Putnam City High School and instruct at the Oklahoma Military academy. 

“He deserves the recognition,” Hays said. “There is a lot of people in the Claremore area that really didn't know my dad's actions in the military. He was a man of great humility and he never really talked about it. So, there were people that knew him pretty well but probably didn't know anything about what he did as a young man, as a kid almost.”

In 1947, Lee returned to OSU and taught speech, was an assistant to the Athletic Director and a faculty advisor to Kappa Sigma Fraternity and the Student Senate. 

Hays said his father was one of those who could have done anything he wanted, but Lee decided to try and make an impact with young people. 

“He was not just a teacher,” Hays said. “He was a mentor. He was the kind of person that if you were having struggles with your grades, your girlfriend or boyfriend, you could talk to him about it.”

Hays said his father, if still alive today, would look at the recognition as an honor and likely take the opportunity to speak about people other than himself. 

Hays said he would be remiss if he didn't mention the women in Lee's life. His mother Harriet Patrick Gilstrap and wife Dorris Hays Gilstrap allowed Lee to be who he wanted and helped shape the caring man Lee became, Hays said.

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