Reveille in Hot Springs
On December 12, 2011, the VA administration from the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN 23) announced at a public meeting that they were going to close the Hot Springs VA. The shock of this announcement reverberated throughout the small community of Hot Springs, SD, the veterans who resided in the community and all of the veterans in the adjoining states of western Nebraska, Eastern Wyoming and the Pine Ridge Indian reservation.
This VA, with a reputation for being one of the finest facilities for treating veterans with PTSD, substance abuse, Agent Orange and other emotional issues common to veterans, and having served all veterans with physical and emotional ailments since the Civil War from all parts of the United States, was on the cut list, along with other rural VA hospitals throughout the country.
Hot Springs veterans and citizens, together with veterans from the adjoining reservation quickly rallied, formed committees to fight this proposed closure and came up with a counter proposal that was beneficial to veterans and cost-saving to all the tax payers in the country. The members of committees wrote letters to state and federal officials, set up a web site, made signs, filed petitions and organized a protest march up to the VA.
On December 25, 2011, I was approached by a committee member and asked to take testimonials from veterans who used the VA and wanted it to remain in this peaceful, rural setting in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota. Veterans felt betrayed by the government that they had served and did not want to travel to large cities for their care where they would be treated like a number instead of as a veteran and a person known by name. They also did not want to be treated in non-VA hospitals in which personnel were not trained in veteran issues.
I began the interviews in January, 2012 as my contribution to the community. Within a few weeks I was committed to the cause of the veterans and was determined to publish their stories in a book that would be read by many Americans and not just the politicians in Washington, who probably would never read the testimonials anyway.
I was honored and humbled to be brought into the world of veterans who had served their country in peacetime and from WWII through the present conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was difficult for most of them; many had never shared their stories with anyone, not even those closest to them. Although some struggled, others never returned to edit their stories (and those remain unpublished). All shared how they had served their country, how they loved this VA and wanted it to remain for them and future generations. They had served proudly, given up prime years of their lives without a choice but to say, “yes, sir, no, sir” and follow orders.
Now they are fighting another battle. This time they are struggling against those who once accepted their service but are now denying them healing and the best health care that they deserve.
As one of the reviewers of the book wrote: “Perhaps this book will inspire others to stand up for them just as they did for all of us. At the very least we owe it to them to read their stories, with common themes of courage, endurance, and triumph.” – Paul Higbee, Contributing Editor of South Dakota Magazine
At one minute to seven on the evening of July 7, 2007, after seven years of drought in the Southern Black Hills of South Dakota, lightning struck in Alabaugh Canyon, directly below a new development of twenty-seven homes on the top of the canyon. The canyon was overgrown with tall grasses and brittle-dry ponderosa pines and cedar trees. Many of the homes were nestled among trees, with one-way, winding dirt roads exiting the area. Within hours, the peaceful rural neighborhood was overtaken by raging, out-of-control flames. Homeowners fled through fire and smoke, while volunteer, state and federal firefighters fought rampaging flames and, at times, ran for their lives. Cascade of Flames tells the stories of firefighters and homeowners who lived through this disaster. Their first-hand accounts are starkly honest, frightening, gut wrenching, soul searching and hopeful. The author and her husband also fled the flames, in their case just minutes before their fire-resistant home disintegrated in the fire, shattering their dreams in one overwhelming night.
“Preserving history through the words of those who’ve lived it provides the most stirring and accurate account of any event—large or small. Cascade of Flames does just that.” – Jim Kent, writer and columnist.
“A gripping account of the Alabaugh Fire that impacted so many lives—detailed, personal, devastating. Reading this opened a whole world to me.” – Marion Dane Bauer, author of the novel On My Honor, an American Library Association Newberry Honor Book.
A Not So Simple Life: Our Return to Rustic Roots
Mary Ellen Goulet was born in the north woods near Ely, Minnesota, where she learned to love and respect nature. After a professional life of teaching, counseling and conducting seminars in the Twin Cities, she and her husband, Robert Lee, a volunteer firefighter, retired to the southern Black Hills of South Dakota. They designed an “off the grid” home, using small solar panels, a wind generator, and a cistern that collected the rain water which provided for their cooking, washing and drinking needs for them, their cats and their llamas. Mary wrote her first book, A (not so) Simple Life: Our Return to Rustic Roots, about their years living in this unique, non-electic appliance house, in a rural area south of Hot Springs.
While writing her reflections on her present life, it frequently triggered memories of her care-free childhood growing up in the north woods, oblivious to the depression. She described those magical years filled with the wonders of nature, influenced by her family under the steady guidance of her perceptive father.
“It is a remarkable gift to be able to look forward to experiencing what will happen in a coming moment, or day, or in the rest of a lifetime. But, it is an equally treasured gift to be able to share a life full of events when woven into a well-knit sweater of a story.” – Rick W Mills author of 125 Years of Black Hills Railroading