Written by John Plestina
The first photo is is Barbara Hamilton, a veteran, accepting two of the 49 Congressional Gold Medals from Fort Peck Tribes Chairman A.T. Rusty Stafne on behalf of two deceased relatives who served as code talkers during World War II; Matt Adams and Charles Adams. The second photo is Keith Bear of New Town, N.D., a Vietnam veteran, holding the medal he accepted on behalf of his late father, Everett Bear. The other photos are from the grand entry and of traditional music. (Photos by John Plestina)
Wartime heroes who were sworn to a lifetime of secrecy and not given the full extent of the welcome they deserved when they returned home nearly 70 years ago were honored posthumously during a ceremony in Poplar’s American Legion Park, Saturday, May 31, the traditional date of Memorial Day.
Forty-eight enrolled members of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation have been identified as World War II code talkers, soldiers who used their native languages as a means of wartime secret communication that enemies could not decode. The U.S. Department of Defense has estimated that the service of code talkers shortened the length of World War II by two years and saved an unknown number of American lives.
All of the local code talkers are now deceased. They were each awarded a Congressional Silver Medal. Fort Peck Tribes Chairman A.T. Rusty Stafne presented the medals to families of the veterans.
The silver medals that were awarded in Poplar were part of the presentation of more than 200 medals to the few surviving code talkers and families of those deceased in all parts of the country.
So far, efforts to identify all code talkers and locate their families continue. It is believed there were about 400 who served during World War II. About one-eighth of all code talkers hailed from the Wolf Point and Poplar areas.
The existence of code talkers from tribes other than Navajo remained classified for 63 years following the end of the second world war until Congress passed the Code Talkers Recognition Act of 2008, and then President George W. Bush signed it into law.
The reason given for keeping the existence of code talkers from numerous tribes secret is that the military did not want any potential future enemy to know what languages were used.
The service of Navajo code talkers was featured in films long ago. President George W. Bush awarded medals to Navajo code talkers at a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in 2001.
The 2008 legislation also authorized the United States Mint to strike a Congressional Gold Medal for each tribe and the silver duplicate medals that were presented to the families of the code talkers. Duplicate bronze replica medals are available from the U.S. Mint online catalog at http://www.usmint.gov.catalog.
The Assiniboine and Sioux are among 33 Native American Tribes the U.S. D.O.D. has identified since 2008 that are eligible to receive a gold medal with a unique design. Twenty-five of the tribes were honored during a ceremony, held in Emancipation Hall in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center., Nov. 20, 2013.
“It’s an honor for your father, uncle, grandfather who participated in a war many years ago, who used his native tongue to win the war,” said Stafne, a Korean War veteran.
Then he reminded the crowd that the U.S. government forced those men as children to go away to boarding schools and tried to eradicate their native languages.
“They found out it helped win a war using their native languages,” Stafne said.
Jeff Berger, who has worked to identify local code talkers for the Fort Peck Tribes, said a lot of hard work went into research for the project.
He said there are more to be identified.
The earliest reported use of code talkers by the U.S. military dates to 1918 when the Army used Choctaw Indians to baffle the Germans some 95 years ago during World War I.
The next recorded use of code talkers came when the Marine Corps recruited Navajos to serve in the Pacific during World War II. Also during the second world war, Comanches developed a secret language-based code for the Army. Members of other tribes, including Assiniboine and Sioux, were assigned to native language communication duty.
Code Talkers from the Fort Peck Reservation were members of Company B, 163rd Infantry Regiment, 41st Infantry Division.
Members of the Fort Peck Tribes acknowledged as code talkers who are identified as members of the Assiniboine Tribe are identified as Jesse Mason Jr., Charles Adams, Matt D. Adams, Joseph R. Alverez, Archie M. Cantrell, Joseph Hamilton, Adam Redd, Lawrence Red Dog, Jay H. Kirn, Duncan Dupree and John Cantrell.
Identified as Sioux are Anton Hollow, Joseph O. Reddoor, Herman Red Elk Jr., Clyde Standing Bear, Herman Belgarde, Arthur Belgarde, Dominick Belgarde, James J. Eder, James M. Melbourne Jr., Shirley Q. Red Boy, James Black Dog Jr., Matthew E. Black Dog, Lloyd Half Red, William Hawk, Earl Jones, Frank Jones, Ralph N. Jones, Barney Lambert, Louis E. Longee, Mark Long Tree, Raymond L. Ogle, William G. Ogle, Gerald Red Elk, William J. Red Fox, Joseph E. Russell, Gregory B. Swift Eagle, Winfield Wilson, James T. Yellow Owl, Douglas Young Man, Everett D. Bear, Richard Left Hand Thunder, Ben Little Head, Archie Red Boy, Fred R. Shields, Joseph Lambert, Harvey Buck Elk and Julian Shields.
A 49th medal was awarded to Gilbert Horn, Sr., of Havre, an Assiniboine member of the Fort Beknap Reservation. He is the only one of the medal recipients during the Poplar ceremony who is living and one of few code talkers across the nation who is alive. He was not able to attend.
There were medals for North Dakota code talkers who were attached to Company B.
The Fort Peck Tribes hosted a feed and traditional Powwow following the ceremony.
The names are sought of any code talkers who might have been overlooked. Anyone with information should contact the Fort Peck Tribes.
Written by John Plestina
The ruins of the two buildings that housed Gysler Furniture and Appliance on the corner of First Avenue South and Anaconda Street remain three months after a fire destroyed the two buildings. (Photo by John Plestina)
The City of Wolf Point and Great Northern Development Corporation are working together toward a cleanup of the fenced-off debris field that was the site of Gysler Furniture and Appliance until a rapidly-moving fire Monday, March 10, leveled both early-20th century Gysler buildings on the corner of Second Avenue South and Anaconda Street.
A special committee of the Wolf Point City Council met with GNDC and environmental consultant Newfields of Missoula Monday, June 2.
The buildings housed a thriving business in downtown Wolf Point until the fire nearly three months ago. Masonry walls that remain standing, rubble and other debris have left a blemish on downtown Wolf Point. The longtime Wolf Point furniture and appliance retailer has moved into what will be at least a temporary location on Main Street on the opposite side of Sherman Park.
GNDC executive director Mart-
in DeWitt told the council that the site could qualify as a designated Brownfield site where expansion, redevelopment or reuse of the property might be complicated by the presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants. The designation could make the city eligible for funding through a revolving loan fund and/or federal grant funding for remediation and clean-up of the site.
DeWitt said it was first assumed that asbestos would not be present since the substance that is now considered hazardous was mostly used in construction during the 1960s and the two buildings are much older. However, remodeling of the structures during the 1960s included roofing materials and flooring made of asbestos. DeWitt explained that the fire created a situation where the half-century old asbestos materials have become what is called friable asbestos, which is any building material containing more than 1 percent asbestos that could be pulverized or powdered by hand pressure, including asbestos that is damaged by fire, and is subject to federal regulation.
“So that’s the kind of site you have sitting on Main Street,” DeWitt told the committee that is comprised of city council members and municipal department heads.
The presence of friable asbestos makes the cleanup more expensive.
The committee recommended proceeding with the process pending legal review and will recommend to the council that the city purchase the Gysler property for $1 and Gysler Furniture and Appliance owner John Gysler retain liability that would include injuries at the site and spreading of contamination; however, that is considered unlikely to occur.
Gysler signed an agreement Wednesday, May 28, for the city to purchase the property for $1 [pending city council approval Monday, June 16] and to indemnify the city for any liability. The agreement also states that Gysler would pay $20,000 to the city at the time of the purchase to be used as a match for a Brownfield program loan that GNDC would make to the city and an additional $20,000 to hire a consultant to complete an asbestos inspection of the site, develop a cleanup approach and cost estimate and install a dedicated water source at the site that is necessary for the cleanup. Gysler also agreed to provide proof of insurance coverage for demolition and cleanup.
Chris Cerquone, Newfields principal environmental specialist, told the council by teleconference that the cost of remediation could exceed $200,000.
All ash and material suspected of containing friable asbestos must be hauled to a landfill in Glasgow that is licensed to accept friable asbestos. That cost was stated at $140 per ton.
All debris at the site might not contain friable asbestos.
“Potentially, some of the brick walls that are still standing may not have to go to the landfill [in Glasgow] and can go to the city dump,” DeWitt said.
Cerquone said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Montana Department of Environmental Quality both agreed that the plan of action for a site cleanup is the best option.
DeWitt told the committee that once the city signs a buy-sell agreement for the property, the city would apply to GNDC for an assessment, which is Phase 1 of the project. That would be at no cost to the city. Upon completion of the assessment, the property could transfer to city ownership and the city would become eligible for the revolving Brownfield loan program at 0 percent for 10 years. The city could also be eligible for grant funding.
“We’re 50 percent of the way into our revolving loan cycle and we’ve expended 12 percent of that,” DeWitt said, and added that the there is a possibility the funding could be lost if not used.
He said the property could be cleaned up by September or October and become usable for new construction. DeWitt also said there are two parties he did not name who are interested in purchasing the site from the city.
The city would be required to use a bidding process for a contractor.
Mayor Chris Dschaak said he wants to keep the city safe from liability.
“I’d like to keep it at zero,” he said. “Twenty years down the road, if someone decides to file a claim, I don’t want the city to be stuck.”
The revolving loan fund has been in existence about two years and other funding possibilities available for the Gysler site were not available when previous fires destroyed buildings in Wolf Point.
The city council will address the full proposal, Monday, June 16.
The city might hold a public meeting to address the Gysler property between the June and July council meetings.
Written by John Plestina
Thirteen Frontier Elementary School eighth-graders received diplomas during the school’s 50th annual commencement exercises Thursday, May 29.
“I would like to brag on this class a little bit,” dean of students Jeff Whitmus said. “I think they are going to grow up to be great people.”
The eighth-grade class selected math and science teacher Heidi Mahler as their graduation speaker.
She referred to the class motto, “Our past is behind us; our lives are before us, but our memories are forever with us.”
“This quote is a wonderful way to express what I’m going to say tonight,” Mahler said.
She reminded the 13- and 14-year-old graduates that their lives are before them.
“Throughout your life, continue to try new things,” Mahler said.
“Believe me, when I was your age, I would not have believed I would be teaching middle school science and math,” she said.
“Make memories you will cherish for a lifetime,” Mahler said and told the graduates to share those memories with their families and friends.
“Each of you remember that you have created memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life,” she said.
Neil Taylor, Fort Peck Tribes’ education director, presented Fort Peck Tribal Education Department Incentive Awards to graduates who are tribal members.
The graduates were: Calvin Coolidge Adams, Lauryn Alyssa Boitano, Samantha Renee Goodman, Madison Marie Kinzie, Brenna Nicole Kurokawa, Anamarie Rose Long, Patience Jade Muth, Richard Martin Ryan Jr., Brandon Dean Smith, Deshon Phillip Smoker-DeWitt, Quinn Jeffrey Whitmus, Aubrey Rose Olechnowicz Zilkoski and Elizabeth Rose Zimmer. Smith was not at the graduation.
Written by Herald-News
Native H.O.P.E (Helping Our People Endure) is a youth group at Poplar High School that focuses on suicide prevention. Students get together for fun and educational meetings where they can talk with each other about many aspects of their journey in life. With summer vacation approaching, they will stay connected through Facebook, texting or hanging out. Native H.O.P.E. dedicated the 2013-2014 school year to their friend, brother and Native H.O.P.E. member John La-
Sarte, who died April 10. The 11 students pictured, all active members of this club, are (from left to right) Duncan McDonald, Alice White, Mahlani Red Eagle, Michelle Red Boy, Courtney Martell, Brock Day, Jordan Spotted Wolf, Andrew Moran, Angel Bighorn, Louie Iron Bear and Carol Burshia. Luanne Azure is the advisor for the club. (Submitted photo)
Written by John Plestina
Pictured are Barry Beach during the time he was free in 2012 and Kim Nees in an undated photo taken during the 1970s.
Former Poplar resident Barry Beach might have to wait one or two more weeks before he learns whether the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole will grant him a full clemency hearing. He has asked the board to commute his 100-year sentence with no eligibility for parole so he could become eligible for a shortened sentence and parole.
A three-member panel of the seven-member board reviewed Beach’s clemency application in Deer Lodge Tuesday, April 29, the first step toward possible clemency.
Attorneys Terrance Toavs of Wolf Point and Peter Camiel of Seattle, Wash., called for advancing the clemency process during the April 29 hearing, arguing that Beach should be eligible for parole because young offenders who are convicted of homicides that occurred when they were juveniles can no longer be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole under a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Twenty of the more than 60 people who attended the hearing testified in favor of clemency for Beach, citing that he was a productive member of society and displayed good character during about 18 months that followed when he was freed in 2011 awaiting a new trial. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2013 overturned a Montana District Court decision allowing a new trial, sending him back to prison.
Beach, now 52, was 22 years old when he was convicted of a crime that occurred when he was 17. Thirty years ago, young offenders convicted of homicides that occurred when they were juveniles could be sentenced to life terms without the possibility of parole and 100-year-terms that amount to lifetime incarceration.
Gov. Steve Bullock wrote a letter asking the board to focus on Beach’s worthiness for parole and not on whether he is guilty or innocent just days before the board considered Beach’s request.
Former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, the special prosecutor who got the murder conviction against Beach, told the Great Falls Tribune during early May that the state parole board should reject Beach’s recent bid for clemency. He sent a letter to the board.
While the parole board was scheduled to release its findings on the hearing held more than five weeks ago within 30 days of the hearing date, it had not done so.
“It was our intention to get it done in 30 days. We are still working on it,” Parole Board director Fern Johnson said Thursday, May 29, and explained that the board is not legally bound to a 30-day time limit. “Except to post it within 21 days of making it.”
She added, “I think we’ve gotten two of the three (individual decisions). We got one last night.”
Johnson speculated at that time that a decision could have been about two weeks from being released, which would be next week.
“Best case scenario; we get the decision next week and we snail mail it to our members around the state,” she said.
“Mr. Beach gets the decision first (before the media), Johnson said.
Beach was convicted in 17th District Court in Glasgow in April 1984 of the 1979 beating death of Kim Nees of Poplar.
Beach and numerous others have maintained innocence for decades. He has said for 35 years that he was not present when Nees was killed.
Questions linger over accounts of people, who say they were witnesses, that a group of teenage girls killed Nees and dumped her body in the Poplar River. An evidence room in the Poplar Police Station was broken into and evidence was compromised shortly after the murder. A then police officer, who is the father of a young woman who some people have claimed was involved, admitted to breaking into the evidence room.