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President Signs Montana Delegation's Bill to Rename Three VA Facilities in Honor of Montana Veterans

June 7, 2018
Press Release
Montana VA clinics to honor David Thatcher, Dr. Joe Medicine Crow, and Ben Steele

President Donald Trump signed the Montana congressional delegation's legislation to rename three Department of Veterans Affairs facilities. This legislation, which was introduced by Congressman Greg Gianforte and U.S. Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester, recognizes the commitment to duty and the personal courage of three Montana veterans by renaming VA facilities in Missoula and Billings in their honor.

The Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Missoula will be renamed in honor of David J. Thatcher, the Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Billings will be renamed in honor of Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow (Dakaak Baako) and the Community Based Specialty Clinic located in Billings will be renamed in honor of Benjamin Charles Steele. The designations have the full support of Department of Montana Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion of Montana and the Disabled Veterans of America, Montana.

“David Thatcher, Ben Steele, and Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow represent the heroism and selflessness of the greatest generation and the very spirit of Montana,” Gianforte said. “With President Trump signing our bill into law, future generations of Montanans will recognize their names and the contributions they made in defense of our freedoms and liberties.”

“The sacrifices of David Thatcher, Dr. Joe Medicine Crow and Ben Steele will now be remembered by Montanans for generations to come,” said Daines. “It is important to tell the stories of these great WWII veterans and the price that must be paid for freedom.”

“Ben Steele, Dr. Joe Medicine Crow, and David Thatcher are Montana’s heroes and America’s heroes,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “These three represent the greatest generation and what is best about Montana, and now future generations will forever remember their brave service.”

David J. Thatcher (Missoula): The Community Based Outpatient Clinic on Palmer Street will be renamed in honor of David J. Thatcher.  Mr. Thatcher was an outstanding Montanan.  The humble circumstances of his upbringing in rural, eastern Montana helped him develop a strong work ethic and in 1940, with war raging across Europe, and the clouds of war on the horizon for the United States, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps.  Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he volunteered to serve as a tail gunner for a high-risk mission to attack targets deep within Japanese controlled territory.  This counterattack would be known to history as the Doolittle Raid.  After finishing the bombing mission and running low on fuel, his aircraft crash-landed near the coast of China.  Mr. Thatcher was instrumental in helping the crew reach safety following the crash and for his actions during the Doolittle Raid, he was awarded the Silver Star.  A few years later, the actor Robert Walker portrayed Corporal Thatcher on the silver screen in “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.”  After the war, Mr. Thatcher embarked on a career with the U.S. Postal Service and married his sweetheart, Dawn. Their marriage spanned seven decades until he passed away in June 2016 at the age of 94. 

Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow (Billings): The Community Based Outpatient Clinic on Spring Creek Lane will be renamed in honor Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow (Dakaak Baako). Dr. Medicine Crow was an accomplished warrior and esteemed historian.  He was born on the Crow Indian Reservation in eastern Montana and traveled across the U.S. while pursuing his education.  In 1939, Dr. Medicine Crow earned his master’s degree from the University of Southern California, becoming the first member of the Crow Tribe to attain that credential.  In 1943 he joined the United States Army.  While serving as an Army scout during World War II, Dr. Medicine Crow fulfilled the four requirements to become a war chief.  While fighting against the German forces he led a war party, stole an enemy horse, disarmed an enemy and touched an enemy without killing him.  Later in life he served as the Crow tribal historian, received multiple honorary doctorate degrees, and spoke at venues across the nation.  He was the last Crow war chief and his passing in April 2016, at the age of 102, was a loss to our nation. For his lifetime of service to the Crow Tribe, the state of Montana, and to United States, Dr. Medicine Crow was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Benjamin Steele (Billings): The Community Based Specialty Clinic located on Majestic Lane will be renamed in honor of Benjamin Charles Steele.  Mr. Steele is remembered by Montanans as a ranch hand, teacher, artist and Bataan Death March survivor. Born and raised in Montana, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1940. After he was captured by the Japanese, Mr. Steele’s sturdy fortitude helped him endure a 66 mile trek in the Philippines, a prisoner ship and a forced labor camp.  He was a prisoner of war in the Pacific Theater of World War II for a total 1,244 days.  Using charcoal to sketch on concrete, he withstood the harsh treatment in captivity and honed his artistic talents.  His artistic expressions were captured on contraband paper. Some of the works he created in captivity were preserved and went on tour through the nation after the war. In September of 2016 we lost a warrior-artist when Mr. Steele passed away at his home in Montana at the age of 98.

The bill text is available to download HERE.