October 29, 2020
Written By: Andy Greenman
In the City of Presidents, one man is seeking to commend veterans through public art projects. U.S. Air Force veteran Bill Casper is committed to raise awareness and report stories of our military heroes.
While most communities across the country show their appreciation for those who served with statues, murals and dedicated parks, Rapid City falls short. Casper said the only year-round tribute is a granite block at Rushmore Plaza, and “we need something bigger than that five-sided block.” Each face of the block are dedicated to a war with a brief recap and the years fought Casper appreciates the tribute but recognizes more can be done.
Casper remembers a memorial which once stood in Halley Park that honored 3,000 veterans in the area. The wood frames deteriorated to the point where it was torn down. The metal plaques that listed the veterans vanished, but thankfully Casper has a record of all that were honored.
A BANNER YEAR
During retirement, Casper has continued to learn about World War II. He has collected about 600 books and 1,000 movies on that war alone. He appreciates the realism of movies like Band of Brothers but is equally entertained by older films. He finds as much enjoyment in the older WWII movies where “You shoot ‘em and the blood trickled out of their mouth and they fell over. They didn’t blow up in slow-motion.”
He has also spends time hitting irons on the beautiful links of this area. It was one of his golfing partner’s wife who enlightened him of a project that was taking place in Emporia, Kansas. They had started a program to place pictures of veterans on streetlight banners along their downtown. A pretty simple way to honor soldiers while beautifying the city.
With inspiration stemming from Kansas, the Veterans Honor Banner Project was born. Casper became the Chairman of the Board and didn’t look far to find veterans for the first banners. “I went around and got sponsors of people I knew who had a father or grandfather [serve], and it just exploded from there.”
Eighteen banners honoring WWII veterans were placed downtown in November of 2017.
In its fourth year, 180 banners are displayed throughout the city. What began as exclusively featuring WWII vets, the banners now date from the Civil War to the present conflict. WWII vet and former Rapid City Mayor, Art LaCroix can be spotted. Oglala Lakota Code Talker Garfield T. Brown served during WWII and is on display outside the Firehouse Mercantile. Lt. Marcella Lebeau, a combat nurse who treated wounded from the Battle of the Bulge - and recently turned 101 - can be found across from the Elks Theater.
As banners fill the streets of Rapid City they have also become a tourism attraction. “We’ve had families take their vacation from other parts of the country to take their picture under their veteran's banner,” said Casper.
The number of banners continue to grow each year and 21 new applications have already been received for 2021. Casper is humbled by the response and wants to take it a step further. The banners simply state a few facts about the veteran, but many people are wanting more. The board chair is currently gathering service details about each veteran and hopes to publish them on the website soon.
While the banners recognize our veterans for only a few months of the year, Casper has ideas for more.
Before COVID-19 hit, they had a grant to create a veteran’s alley – one similar to Art Alley. An alley would be turned into a large mural that honored veterans from the Revolutionary War to present times. When the pandemic hit, plans were put on hold. Casper is still pushing on with the idea as soon as he “finds the right spot.”
To learn more about the Veterans Honor Banner Project or sponsor a veteran, visit veteranshonorbannerproject.com.