A decision of the highest precedence

The Veterans Wall was dedicated to the Veterans of Fallon and Carter Counties.

By Sheila Bondell

The Veterans Wall was dedicated to the Veterans of Fallon and Carter Counties. The Legion has a limited number of active members so it was recommended that the Veterans Memorial be turned over to the Fallon County Commissioners. This was what was brought to the Legion Post/Board and it was voted by the members present that Drury Phebus would turn the Veterans Memorial over to the Commissioners to be safe guarded and cared for just as the Veterans would care for the monument. There was money left over from the donations for the wall that was given to the Commissioners to add names to the wall as they came in and to replace the American Flag and State Flag to help with the upkeep of the monument until the funds were exhausted.

In November without notification to the Legion or any other Veteran that is actively associated with the Legion there was a POW/MIA monument and additional flag pole installed to the Veterans Memorial. We were later told that there was a flaw in the original design of the monument that may cause a possible deterioration to the monument. So it was decided by nonveterans to place the POW/MIA monument in this flawed area. We were told by Mona Madler from the SMART office that the money from the Veterans Memorial was not used to fund this monument and that the money was still available to maintain the wall.

The POW/MIA placed in the flawed area is directly in front of the American Flag and the Veterans Wall. This is the place of highest precedence that the POW/MIA monument was placed (besides filling in a flawed area). Nothing should come before the American Flag. It has been argued that the American Flag is at the place of honor by virtue of being the tallest. In research of the Flag Code and at looking at Federal Buildings, The Statue of Liberty, and grave markers the height of the American Flag wasn’t the indicator of precedence. Some buildings are taller than the flag poles the Statue of Liberty is several stories taller than the flags. When placed on graves the grave markers are mostly taller than the flags placed on the Veterans graves. So we are once again the place of highest precedence is in front of the monuments.

The next issue at hand is why did the POW/MIA monument not be considered to have a place of honor to call its own? Was it not worthy of its own place? I have researched and have not been able to find another occurrence of two Veteran’s Memorials being placed together with one superior to the other. Then as we look at the service members listed on our wall we have one very highly decorated Marine. His name is Major James B. Seaman  is a Navy Cross and a Navy Distinguish Flying Cross recipient. The Navy Cross is the second highest award in the Navy/Marines below the Medal of Honor. He also was a pilot on Marine One for President Eisenhower. He served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. In research I found two other soldiers that received the Army Distinguish Cross but they were missed on being placed on the Veterans Wall. One was born in Baker, MT Robert G. Lewis (WWII) and the other was Henry N. Benoit (WWI) Home of Record Ekalaka, MT. The POW medal is 19th in the order of Precedence. As you look around the cemetery you see that we have more heroes that have Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts. There are probably more heroes that do not tell their story until we read the story on their grave markers. These people are heroes that stood in the face of danger and should not be placed at place of less precedence. There should never have been an issue of one memorial being superior to the other.

I had explained this to the Commissioners and they were agreeable to move the POW/MIA monument to a place so that it would be equal to the Veterans Memorial or to the POW/MIA monument’s own location. Then on Monday the Fallon County Commissioners received a call from unknown persons claiming to be Veterans saying that the monument should be left and not moved. This caused a problem with the movement. The identity of these said Veterans were not disclosed so it makes it questionable as to if they were a Veteran, for Veterans would have no problem stepping up and admitting to their stance on an issue of Veterans’ concern. But Veterans would be more astute of precedence and making sure that our American Flag was in the place of honor and would know or find out about the heroric acts of their fellow Veterans. They would also be aware that Montana has 55 soldiers that are missing and are not forgotten. I was unable to find any record of a Montana resident that was classed as a POW. I was told at the Fallon County Commissioners meeting that we were required to fly the POW flag at the monument. MCA 1-1-541 signed by Governor Bullock states the flag is required to be flown over the State Capital, State District Court, any building that serves as a county administrative building. In review of this law it wasn’t required to be flown at the monument so it wasn’t necessary for the extra flag pole. There appears to be several areas of questionable information. Perhaps if Veterans had been included in the decision or at least made sure they were aware of pending changes and were asked to voice any concerns it would have alleviated this situation.

The two Veterans Monuments should never have been placed with one higher than the other. It would have been just as wrong to have the POW/MIA monument behind the Veterans Wall. I hope that I have given more insight to the issue of having two Veteran’s memorials together. It is an issue that should never have been. Neither one of the memorials should have ever been superior to the other. This action showed a lot of disrespect for both monuments and the Veterans they represent. It also showed a lack of respect for the American Flag. We need this corrected the sooner the better. Please send signed letters with your name, rank, branch of service, years of service and additional requirement is that your name needs to be on the Veterans wall to have input in this matter. American Legion Post #35, P.O. Box 1039, Baker, MT 59313. Your letter needs to be signed.

Thank You

Sheila Bondell

Major USAR

Fallon Post #35 Commander