PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — More than four decades after U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam, some South Dakota veterans of that war are launching a new battle.
They want to save the Flaming Fountain that is the centerpiece of South Dakota’s memorial complex next to the state Capitol in Pierre.
The fountain is a flowing well drilled in 1909-1910 during construction of the Capitol. An underground pocket of natural gas fueled the flame, but the supply has become sporadic and no longer is lit on a regular basis.
Meanwhile decades of water pressure seem to have busted parts of the original well casing and now there’s reportedly a 44-inch hole near the surface beneath the fountain’s firebox.
The situation has two Pierre- area veterans of that era, John Moisan and Ken Rausch, concerned that the well is in danger of collapse and could pull down the ceremonial stonework around it.
They took that warning on Saturday to the board meeting of the South Dakota Vietnam Veterans of America.
Moisan worked for the state Bureau of Administration before his retirement and was responsible for the World War II memorial project built in 2001 under then-Governor Bill Janklow.
Rausch is president of the Pierre-Fort Pierre chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America.
The fix, according to Moisan, could cost an estimated $3 million. He’s urged for years since he left state government that the memorials receive good care.
In 2019, he worked with several legislators from the Pierre area to budget $200,000 for a professional engineering study of the well.
Instead, Governor Kristi Noem’s administration tapped faculty members at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City. Their analysis found a complex problem without a simple solution.
Moisan didn’t mention the Mines findings Saturday but he talked about an earlier study. He said a professional analysis must be done as part of determining a solution.
“We as a group here in Pierre, and as veterans, are worried about the future of the Flaming Fountain. Eventually something bad is going to happen to it. It may be tomorrow, it may be five years from now, ten years from now — we don’t really know,” Moisan said.
Rausch said legislators must be contacted throughout South Dakota. “Get the word across that this is serious business,” he said.
“I’ve been here 45 years,” Rausch said, “and when I first came here, going out there, every veteran that came here from out of state, all over the place, (said) ‘This is our brothers and this Flaming Fountain is your good remembrance,’ and we want to get that back to the way it was.”
Moisan said there are technologies available that can fix it.
“We can have the fire, we can have the water and it can stay nice. We as a small group here in Pierre, we’re singing a song and nobody’s listening to it,” he said. “So we’re going to have to do this statewide, so that people who appreciate veterans and people that are veterans can talk to their brothers and say, ‘Hey, we got a problem in Pierre, we gotta get this fixed or we aren’t going to have a memorial anymore.'”
He added, “I think it’s time we should get the thing fixed so we don’t have — so we actually do have something permanent that’s going to be here forever.”