Great Falls Tribune: Veterans facilities renamed after 3 Montana heroes

Three veterans’ facilities in Montana will be named after a trio of Treasure State World War II vets, following the president’s approval of legislation introduced by Montana’s congressional delegation.

President Donald Trump OK’d renaming the Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Missoula to honor David J. Thatcher, the Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Billings will be renamed in honor of Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow (Dakaak Baako) and the Community Based Specialty Clinic in Billings will be renamed in honor of Benjamin Charles Steele.

This legislation was introduced by U.S. Sens. Steve Daines, Jon Tester and Rep. Greg Gianforte.

The three lawmakers praised each of the veterans for their bravery.

“It is important to tell the stories of these great WWII veterans and the price that must be paid for freedom,” Daines, R-Mont., said.

Gianforte, R-Mont., agreed.

 “With President Trump signing our bill into law, future generations of Montanans will recognize their names and the contributions they made in defense of our freedoms and liberties,” he said in a news release.

Tester, D-Mont., ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the three were actually “America’s heroes.”

“These three represent the greatest generation and what is best about Montana, and now future generations will forever remember their brave service,” he said.

Officials said the designations have the support of Department of Montana Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion of Montana and the Disabled Veterans of America, Montana.

Thatcher enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1940.  Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he volunteered to serve as a tail gunner for a high-risk mission, now known as the “Doolittle Raid,” to attack targets deep within Japanese-controlled territory.

After finishing the bombing mission and running low on fuel, his aircraft crash-landed near the coast of China. Thatcher was instrumental in helping the crew reach safety following the crash and was awarded the Silver Star.

After the war, he worked for the U.S. Postal Service and married his sweetheart, Dawn. Their marriage spanned seven decades until he died in June 2016 at the age of 94.

Medicine Crow was an accomplished warrior and esteemed historian.  He was born on the Crow Indian Reservation in eastern Montana and traveled across the U.S. while pursuing his education.

In 1939, Dr. Medicine Crow earned his master’s degree from the University of Southern California, becoming the first member of the Crow Tribe to attain that credential.  In 1943 he joined the U.S. Army. 

While serving as an Army scout during World War II, he fulfilled the four requirements to become a war chief.  While fighting against the German forces he led a war party, stole an enemy horse, disarmed an enemy and touched an enemy without killing him.  Later in life he served as the Crow tribal historian, received honorary doctorate degrees, and spoke at venues nationwide.

He was the last Crow war chief and died in April 2016, at the age of 102.

Medicine Crow was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Benjamin Charles Steele is remembered by Montanans as a ranch hand, teacher, artist and Bataan Death March survivor.

He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1940. After he was captured by the Japanese, Steele endured a 66-mile trek in the Philippines, a prisoner ship and a forced labor camp. He was a prisoner of war in the Pacific Theater of World War II for 1,244 days.

Using charcoal to sketch on concrete, he withstood the harsh treatment in captivity and honed his artistic talents.  His art was captured on contraband paper. Some of the works he created were preserved and toured the United States after the war.

He died in September 2016 at the age of 98.