I drove over yesterday so I could do the Governor’s Cup race today.
I did the 5-K, got about 28 minutes.
My 5-year-old son Paul did the Kid’s Fun Run last night and, despite the massive rain, we had a really good time (didn’t rain while we were running).
So that’s my little story.
Pretty common…pretty boring.
What other Montana stories are there?
Our Debt Problems
Some reports say we have 421 million active credit cards in this country, enough for every man, woman and child to have 1.3 cards.
The average debt load on each of those cards is $5,232.
Sounds pretty grim, huh?
It’s not, at least compared to our other problems.
We have a national savings rate of 2.6%.
Compared to the savings rate of China – 44% - that’s pretty bad. Still, China has its own problems.
China has $5.4 trillion in national debt, which is around 50% of its GDP.
When you add in China’s private sector debt, however, the nation’s debt comes out to 260% of GDP.
Talk about a ticking time bomb, huh?
So how does America compare?
Here in America we have $19 trillion in national debt, or 107% of GDP. When you add in the private sector debt, however, it comes out to 340% of GDP.
Factor in our underfunded pensions and it’s about 350%.
My God, what will we ever do?
Cut pensions, obviously.
In May the head of the Teamsters union told of an average cut of 22% to benefits for the 270,000 union members.
The Teamsters figured their pension funds would grow by 7.7% per year but that’s not happening. For every $1 coming into the pension fund, $3.46 is going out.
How is this sustainable?
It’s not, but instead of talking about it, we ignore it and hope it goes away.
Good luck with that.
Building Montana’s Highways…Decades Ago
Let’s start with highways and interstates.
In June 1910 it was reported out of Missoula that 211 prisoners were working to build the Glacier-Yellowstone national park highway.
Those prisoners were housed sixty to a tent and three unarmed guards were stationed outside. Mostly the guards served as foremen or superintendants of construction. “Escapes have been no more numerous than under the old system,” it was reported.
In 1957 it was expected that Montana’s “forest highways” would cost $55 million to build and the state would receive $23.9 million over the coming decade.
Interstate 15 started construction in the 1960s but the final piece was not laid until the late-1980s.
While constructing the stretch between Helena and Butte through Jefferson County, design engineers discovered a “pauper’s cemetery” with “about five or six bodies” near “an old stagecoach stop near Bernice,” or what used to be known as the McAlester stage stop.
The bodies were identified, whatever family that still remained was notified, and after a long legal process, the bodies were exhumed.
“Most of the bodies uncovered were identified as victims of a flu epidemic which hit the area” in the late-1800s. Despite the work of engineers, construction crews found several more bodies while building the interstate.
Montana’s Vietnam Vets…and Casualties
In March 1967 the Great Falls Tribune that Captain Roger P. Richardson was killed “while serving as navigator aboard an Air Force RC-47 reconnaissance aircraft in Vietnam.”
The plane was shot down under hostile fire while flying over South Vietnam. Richardson had been born in 1934, graduated Great Falls High in 1953, and joined the Air Force in 1955.
He’d been sent to Texas then Florida and then in 1966, Vietnam. He left both parents behind, as well as a sister, a wife and three children, ages 8 to just 18 months.
In May 1967 the same paper told of Joseph G. Klemencic, Jr., who was killed while serving with the Second Battalion, Third Marines, Third Marine Division.
He’d been born in November 1946, graduated from Great Falls Central High in 1965, and joined up the very next year. He got engaged first, but alas, that was not meant to be. He left behind his grandmother, both parents, four brothers, and a sister.
In April 1968 the Missoulian told us of Lance Cpl. L. Russell Crase, who died five days earlier at Khe Sahn.
He’d graduated Hellgate High School in 1966, went to UM for a short time, then enlisted with the Marines. He was the top of his platoon in boot camp. He left behind a great-aunt, two grandmothers, a grandfather, both parents, and a brother.
The Montana Historical Society’s single file folder on the Vietnam War is full of newspaper clippings just like those three. When it was all said and done, 316 Montanans had died over there in the hot jungles and swampy marshland of Southeast Asia.
In May 2016, America signed an arms trade deal with Vietnam.
It’s not really known how Vietnam veterans feel about that. We do know how they felt when Montana made a memorial to them.
On November 11, 1988 – Veteran’s Day – the Montana State Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Missoula’s Rose Park was dedicated.
“Western boots protruded from full-dress spats and eagle-feathered Crow headdresses flowed over government-issued green,” Dick Manning of the Missoulian told us of the around 1,000-person crowd.
“From the spit-and-polish lifers to the burned-out, bearded longhairs wearing full-jungle fatigues,” the Vietnam veterans of Montana “showed up in force.”
The 15- by -10 foot memorial was made of 2,000 pounds of bronze that sculptor Deproah Copenhaver spent two months casting in Walla Walla, Washington.
There were twenty Montanans listed as missing in action in Vietnam, and one was Richard Appelhans. In 1992 the Helena Independent Record told us that he “disappeared without a trace” on October 16, 1967.
Appelhans was 29-years-old when he went missing, was on his second tour of duty as well. It was a short tour, just six months, and the reason was that a father of two had been set to replace Appelhans when his tour ended but the young man “didn’t want to put him in danger.”
Appelhans was flying on a night mission “over Laos to bomb five targets” when he lost radio contact. No crash site was ever found and Appelhans became just one of the 2,665 American POWs and MIAs from that war.
More than 36,000 Montanans served in Vietnam. One of the most decorated of Montana’s Vietnam War veterans is Montana’s Bill Willing.
He’d joined up 1970 after flunking out of UM. His father urged him to after the school had sent his grades home. Willing wasn’t too disappointed as he’d been on a 30-day pass to fly around the world with his TWA stewardess girlfriend...hence the bad grades.
So he joined up and his first week in country he was thrust into the Battle of Dak Seang. “I just knew I wouldn’t make it out alive,” he told the Helena Independent Record in 2010.
He made it through that week and all that came after. All told, with the 170th Assault Helicopter “Bikini Beach” Company, Willing commanded a Buccaneer gunship on 512 combat missions in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Willing flew mostly on the UH-1 Hueys, and he called his particular craft the “Vigilante.” The name was painted on the helicopter’s nose cone and Willing “went through five nose cones” during his nearly 14-month tour, and three of those came because his helicopters were shot down.
One such incident happened at night while flying over Laos during a storm. He and his four-man crew were forced to run nonstop for the next 24 hours until rescue came. Willing credits his Helena High School gym coach, Lanny Fred, as saving his life.
“The whole time we were running, I kept hearing Lanny Fred’s voice pushing me to do an extra push-up…to go higher in the rope climb, yelling, ‘You can do it, don’t quit on me!’” Willing was able to thank Fred personally when they became neighbors in Marysville after the war.
Bill Willing received 55 decorations for his service, including the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, and Purple Heart among others.
One of Willing’s “Vigilante” nose cones can be seen at Fort Harrison in Helena and it was Willing that flew the “helicopter on a stick” north from San Antonio to Helena, which now rests outside the Helena Regional Airport.
Willing was also responsible for the Jim Darcy memorial display at Jim Darcy Elementary School.
Montana’s Crimes Against Veterans
Most Vietnam vets probably don’t care as much about our new arms deal with that country.
What they care about is getting the medical care they were promised.
Alas, our VA system fails them miserably.
Today the IR had a story called “Ex-VA manager claims retaliation.”
That manager was former Associate Chief of Inpatient Care, Dianne Scotten.
She tells how a “culture of fear” existed at the Montana VA, Helena in particular.
This story made me sick when I read it.
Apparently in 2014 there was an operation and afterward, a dispute arose “over whether a surgical towel count had been completed.”
It seems that no count was done, and I can’t help but think it’s because one of those towels was left in the patient.
“Surgical towels are counted to ensure that none remain inside a patient during a surgical procedure,’ we’re told.
Scotten filed a report over this lack of a count and that led to “changes in operating room procedures and the use of a new type of surgical towel that can be seen by x-ray.”
So they left one in there.
Fine, it happens…but what happened next should never happen.
Allow me to quote at length:
“Almost immediately after making the report in April 2014, Associate Director for Patient Care Services Norlynn Nelson reprimanded Scotten, reassigned her duties, cut off communication with her, shut her out of meetings and prevented her from participating in correcting actions following another operating error.”
Nelson vigorously denies that she or Montana VA Director Ginnity – who announced last week that he’ll resign next month – retaliated against Scotten.
“Scotten was reassigned away from the operating room to give her a better chance to learn the VA system and excel in her new job,” it was reported Nelson said.
Scotten quit the VA in December 2015 and is now working at the Montana DPHHS.
The only reason we know any of this is because the national VA Under Secretary for Health, David Shulkin, sent a letter to Senator Daines telling him about it.
I personally feel that many of the top people at the VA need to be fired right now, on Saturday night.
This is despicable.
I have no doubt it’ll continue.
Coppes, Chuck. “Chinese Bubble Economy & the Coming Global Fiscal Crisis.” PDF Report. 5 June 2016.
“Falls Youth Is Killed In Vietnam Fighting.” Great Falls Tribune. 12 May 1967.
“Great Falls Soldier Dies in Vietnam.” Great Falls Tribune-Leader. 14 March 1967.
“Lance Cpl Crase Killed in Vietnam.” Missoulian. 12 April 1968.
Manning, Dick. “In Missoula, an unveiling.” Missoulian. 12 November 1988.
“Park-To-Park Highway Is No Longer A Dream.” Non-named Montana newspaper in the Montana Historical Society’s “Highway Construction” place names folder. 29 June 1910.
Pekoc, Ken. “Montana MIAs: One family’s story.” Independent Record. 29 November 1992.
Rutland, Aulica. “Road construction unearths bodies.” The Montana Standard. 19 November 1995.
“Speedy Completion Urged For Lewis-Clark Highway.” Great Falls Tribune. December 1957.
Synness, Curt. “Helena native, Vietnam veteran among state’s most decorated.” Independent Record. 15 May 2010.
“Vietnam memorial.” Great Falls Tribune. 16 April 1988.
Volz, Matt. “Ex-VA manager claims retaliation.” Independent Record. 11 June 2016.