United Veterans Beacon House Stories
Last year we traveled to Eagle Butte, South Dakota with Veteran Service Officers to assist Veteran members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe - Lakota Akicita. We made the commitment and followed through...we committed to returning for follow up in 2005 and we have now done that with a visit by Jeremiah Simpson, Veteran Service Officer...we fulfilled our promises.Jody Tapio, a VSO from SD-01, worked closely with Jeremiah in honing his skills as a VSO. Jody is the future house manager for the Promise, South Dakota UVBH and he is now also accredited to provide VSO support for all Veterans.
We committed to going back to Promise, South Dakota to start the refurbishment of the old Promise Day School after obtaining a lease from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. We had the trailer and van loaded to the gunnels. We stopped off in Cleveland, Ohio where we picked up foodstuffs from Ohio Post 10. There was probably not an inch of spare space both in the trailer and the van. The travel party included Loy Smith, National Board Member and Commander of Post LA-04, Thibodaux, LA; Michael Breighner, National Board Member and National Master Sgt-at-Arms; Joe Sherman, Sgt-at-Arms Post PA-35, York County, PA and me.
Our first day saw us stopping for the night in Iowa where after a late dinner we all collapsed only to begin again the next day at 6 a.m. Everyone read books and conversed while I did the driving.
The second day we arrived late in Pierre, South Dakota dreaming about having only a half a day to go to get to our destination of Promise, South Dakota. Getting there is only half the fun!
Now picture leaving Pierre, South Dakota heading on South Dakota 1804 for Promise. We saw literally hundreds of pheasants, grouse and partridge, deer and turkeys. And then we turn off on the Promise Road and the first thing we see is a herd of buffalo. We knew we were close. As we continued to travel along this gravel road we came upon a young buck standing in the middle of the road defying us to continue - we acquiesced and let him pass. We arrived at Promise and immediately started to unload the van and trailer - no easy task.
Bob and Patsy Marshall met us at the Beacon House - Bob is the Post Commander for Post SD-01. After just a brief site inspection we knew we were in trouble when not one of the utilities that were supposed to be turned on actually worked. The electricity was, in fact, connected but connected to a pole and wire that went nowhere. The phone system had a fault and the water system had a leak - we were batting a thousand. We finally convinced the electric cooperative that they had put the meter in the wrong place and they agreed to make the long trip out to fix the problem. Once we had electricity we could get underway.
Bob Marshall became our telephone receptionist at the house along with other duties. Finally, the phone was working but then again most of the calls were for Bob. Bob honed his skills by seeking a mower and assorted equipment.
We attempted to find a plumber or excavating company to fix the water leak but this proved fruitless. Finally Terry Ducheneaux's son and grandson came to our rescue. In fact, Terry Ducheneaux came to our rescue many times both for our renovation needs as well as our inner needs for food. The hospitality Terry afforded us was nothing short of exceptional! Terry became a great supporter and champion for veterans.
Weedwacker Patsy Marshall was like a woman possessed. Every time any of us looked up Patsy was out there wacking the weeds! After making many phone calls seeking somebody with a mower to slash the grass down on twenty-five acres of property Leon and Gilbert Red Dog turned up. They were going to bring their ride on mower and let Patsy drive it. So...that afternoon Leon produced the mower and immediately Patsy took over the operations - imagine what she could do on a mower!
Bob Marshall's nephew had his bobcat and he cleaned up the driveway, helped move some of the broken sidewalks and got the area surrounding the house looking great! The propane tank came and was installed, got moved and got installed again. The West is still wild!
We saw Leon come back the second day and Patsy eagerly waited to drive the mower. Leon got it off the pickup truck and then I saw it being pushed back onto the pickup truck - seemed there was a gaping hold in the crankcase - no more riding mower. Patsy was distraught - she had to go back to the trusty weedwacker.
We stayed in the Beacon House for the first night and having no water, no heat and no toilets left everybody a little full in the face. They were dedicated but â€¦not that dedicated. So, we needed to move to a motel about thirty miles away. During our excursions to Mobridge seeking building materials we met a lot of veterans - some have already become members.
We removed old insulation around the basement and restored and replastered, powerwashed the building and the handicapped ramp, painted doors, erected the flagpole and affixed the UVBH sign to the building. We got the handicapped ramp and deck painted, security lights fitted, the boiler donated by Peerless Boilers down into the boiler room along with the hot water service all in one piece - no small feat!
We got the commercial stainless steel six-burner stove donated by Frank Amalfitano of the United Veterans Beacon House Program in New York into the kitchen.We installed water pipes to take water away from the building.
Patsy and Bob Marshall presented a hand-made Eagle Quilt and a Star Quilt to the organization to be used as fund-raisers. Patsy's mother has done the beautiful handwork and we will be auctioning them off on E-bay in the near future. They also made sure that Loy Smith had a great birthday - bringing most of the fixings for a meal along with the traditional birthday cake!
A time of real pride was when we could affix the United Veterans Beacon House sign to the building. Shown in the photo in the front row are from the left: Leon Red Dog and Michael Breighner; in the back Patsy Marshall, Bob Marshall, Joe Sherman and Loy Smith.
In writing this column I realize that while it didn't seem like we had accomplished a lot in the week we were in Promise we really did get a great deal done. We will need to make additional visits to Promise and each time we will be closer to getting veterans into this United Veterans Beacon House.
We had support from VVnW & The Veterans Coalition Post SD-01 - Lakota Akicita. However, it was a pity that Post SD-02 could not put aside their pettiness to help veterans. Post SD-02 members were notified of our plans and the need for help and we are disappointed in their lack of participation.
We believe our next trip in the spring will see a greater enthusiasm as now the Native American Veterans can see that we are fulfilling our promise.
If you are interested in doing something to help, contact us - you too can have some adventures in the Wild West and bring to fruition the dream of housing Native American Veterans in a United Veterans Beacon House! You will feel a real sense of accomplishment so I hope you will join us.
Make your commitment today!
You will feel good about helping!