Members of the Pierre / Fort Pierre Vietnam Era Veterans Association came together this Saturday, May 11, to clean the Flaming Fountain and other monuments on the State Capitol grounds.
“It’s an annual thing, we’ve been doing it six or seven years at least,” VEVA President Ken Rausch said. “We just had a brainstorm one year… we wanted to do something for the veterans and the community. We always do it real close to Memorial Day weekend.”
While 60s-and-70s-era rock blared from a nearby Dakota Radio Group van, the dozen-plus attending Vietnam veterans scrubbed statues, de-gunked the fountain and power-washed the marble monuments.
The veterans said that they were able to use cleaning equipment like power washers and long stone scrapers, thanks to assistance from the State Bureau of Administration. Saturday morning’s cold rain hindered a few of the clean-up efforts, but just a few.
“The only thing is painting the [World War 2 memorial] rails. I try to paint those rails every other year,” Rausch said. “Last year it rained, this year it rained.”
Besides the monuments explicitly dedicated to military veterans, some of the volunteers also cleaned the monuments dedicated to first responders: EMTs, firefighters, and other public safety personnel.
“Well, they do their service differently from how we did ours,” veteran Ken Phillips said. “They do it for the community... they deserve to have theirs cleaned too.”
As they cleaned, a few of the veterans complained about the condition of the memorial grounds. Phillips pointed out that many names on the firefighters’ monument had become illegible, the names’ paint having long since faded away.
“We’ve been telling the state, ‘you can’t even read the names on this...’ I think that white paint that they put in there is the same as they use on a bowling ball. Shouldn’t take anyone too much time to fix,” Phillips said.
Nearby, fellow veteran Hal Rumpca was frustrated that the Flaming Fountain did not actually flame.
“It actually flames, the gas pipe was corroded broken down a ways… supposedly [the state legislature] was going to allocate some money to study it and fix it, and that was defeated in committee,” Rumpca said.
Regardless of the condition of the memorials, all the veterans said they were happy to spend a Saturday making sure they looked their best. Many said the VEVA is a major social outlet in their lives, and the clean-up is an event they look forward to annually.
“We actually enjoy coming down here and cleaning up the monument area and the memorials,” Rumpca said.