Honoring Veterans in Our Historic Preservation Work
Old Main is the only original Soldiers Home building in the country designed to combine multiple basic veteran care functions under one roof.
In honor of those who have served in the armed forces, we wanted to highlight and update some of the work that the National Trust has been doing to preserve and protect sites that are significant to veterans.
We are currently working to prevent the closure of Battle Mountain Sanitarium in South Dakota, protecting Hawaii’s Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium from demolition, and finding ways to restore and reuse many buildings at the Milwaukee Soldiers Home campus in Wisconsin. Our staff also worked with the American Legion to pass a resolution in support of stewarding U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) historic properties.
So what better time than Veterans Day to share where we stand on these important projects? Here goes:
Battle Mountain Sanitarium
Over the summer, a Congressional field hearing to discuss the future of Battle Mountain Sanitarium was held in Hot Springs, South Dakota. A capacity crowd of 500 people attended, and all were strongly opposed to the VA’s proposal to close the facility. By the end of the hearing, all Members of Congress in attendance stated their intention to do all they can to keep Battle Mountain Sanitarium open to serve the needs of veterans living in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska. The National Trust continues to work to make that outcome a reality.
In September, the VA also completed its initial “scoping period” as part of federal laws requiring review and public comment of the VA’s proposal to close the facility. The National Trust submitted written comments outlining our concerns as well as the concerns of citizens who sent us their personal stories about the importance of Battle Mountain Sanitarium as a facility and historic campus. The VA will now take all the comments into account and develop alternatives to the closure proposal, which will be further analyzed and open for public comment before a final decision is made. The National Trust will continue its active engagement in this review process.
Milwaukee VA Soldiers Home
Our efforts to highlight the importance of the Milwaukee VA Soldiers Home campus continued through the summer and fall. In July, new signage was added to Interstate 94 that directs visitors to the VA National Historic Landmark, helping raise the visibility of the site to locals and those passing through the area. Meanwhile, several buildings in the complex received everything from new roofs to repointing, scraping, and painting after several years of no maintenance.
In October, Milwaukee Magazine also helped raise awareness of the complex among its readers by naming the campus one of its “Reasons to Love Milwaukee.” All of this visibility is happening at the same time that we work with our local partner, the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, to help the VA properly protect the campus so that the historic buildings can be reused in the service of veterans.
Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial
In August, U.S. Army Veteran Craig McGinnis hand-delivered 1,100 letters supporting the preservation of the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial. The National Trust collected them from around the world ahead of the city’s deadline for public input on a plan to demolish the World War I memorial. In collaboration with Friends of the Natatorium, we consolidated, printed, mailed, and delivered the enormous package of testimonials we received through our website, SavingPlaces.org. It’s another important step in our efforts to save the historic site.
Launched earlier this year, our HOPE Crew program has already helped restore everything from shotgun homes in Atlanta to Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, New Jersey. However, a unique opportunity presented itself when we partnered with The Corps Network, the Montana Conservation Corps, and the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center to teach preservation craft skills to young veterans who not only learned something new, but had the opportunity to be introduced to historic preservation.
In July, an all-Veteran HOPE Crew from the Montana Conservation Corps restored headstones of soldiers who fought in the Battle of Little Bighorn, the Spanish-American War, both World Wars, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The project included cleaning, resetting, and adjusting height and orientation of 200 headstones in Custer National Cemetery to meet VA standards. Find out more and see a video of the work.
American Legion Resolution
Just last month, as part of the American Legion’s ongoing commitment to ensuring that veterans receive the best possible care in existing VA medical centers, the organization passed a resolution urging the VA and Congress to take steps to provide greater stewardship and resources to the more than 2,000 historic properties under the agency’s management. Its language draws from recommendations made in the National Trust’s "Honoring Our Nation’s Veterans: Saving Their Places of Health Care and Healing" report issued last Veterans Day. Receiving the support of the organization’s two million members in this way is very encouraging as it can help us in advocacy work for all VA properties we are working to save.
While our work usually focuses on preserving historic places, we at the National Trust want to help the people behind those places in equal measure. Our work on behalf of veterans is something we do not take lightly, and we hope it honors their sacrifices, today and every day.