States veterans serve us in such wonderful ways. We’re so honored to be in Hot
Springs, South Dakota. A town that not only serves veterans while they’re
alive, but for the last 20 years has found a way to serve veterans and their
families at their passing, ” said KELOLAND On the Road host, Mike Huether.
“I attended a funeral with a veteran’s spouse. She was buried in one of these caskets. And it’s kind of a humbling experience knowing that… that person is going home to rest in one of our caskets,” said Joe Messinio, the current president of Veterans Honored Interment.
Twenty years ago, Paul Redfield, a resident of the South Dakota Veteran’s Home in Hot Springs, South Dakota, conceived a project to provide honorable and dignified burial vessels for fellow veterans and their spouses. “We’re here for the veterans. We’re here for those veterans and their spouses. We want to make sure that they know that they have someplace to come to if they need help burying their loved ones,” said Joe Messinio.
That was Marine Corps veteran, Joe Messinio, current president of the organization called “Veterans Honored Interment. Joe is one of two veteran volunteers in Hot Springs who make the caskets. Army veteran, Darrell Custer, is the other. “Primarily, now Joe builds most of the caskets with help from his grandson,” said Darrell Custer. “Oh great,” said Mike Huether. “And I do the urns,” said Custer. “Okay,” said Mike Huether. “Then I do the disbursements because I live here at the home. We’re very, very fortunate that the South Dakota State Veteran’s Home provides us with this facility to work at,” said Custer. “Yeah,” agreed Mike Huether.
Darrell is a 22-year resident of Hot Springs, and he has lived 10 years at the South Dakota Veteran’s home there. He couldn’t be more thankful. “You got to be very, very proud to live in the South Dakota State Veteran’s home. It’s absolutely comfortable. They take very good care of us. But I just couldn’t be happier to be anyplace,” said Custer.
Today, volunteers are not only at the veteran’s home, but now all across the state. Joe lives in Oerlichs, South Dakota and the program has successfully expanded to the east side of the state in Sioux Falls. “We want to keep this tradition going. And we feel like we’re still doing good for the veterans of South Dakota. And we want to continue it on. We want to make it so that the veterans have some place to come to if they need help at putting them to rest,” said Joe Messinio.
“There’s a group that works with their volunteers out of the VFW in Sioux Falls. And they have a warehouse and an operation over there. And they furnish caskets primarily for the east side of the river,” said Darrell Custer. “Okay,” said Mike Huether. “And we furnish caskets primarily for the west side of the river,” said Darrell Custer.
To date, about 500 beautiful caskets have been furnished, along with about 250 urns. “Primarily, the bulk of those folks go to the National Cemetery in Sturgis,” said Darrell Custer. “Okay,” said Mike Huether. “We have a few up in our cemetery here at the home. We have a cemetery up in the back of the home here. And that’s where my wife is. She’s in one of the urns that I built, up in the cemetery up here in the back,” said Darrell Custer.
The care and the pride that goes into making these wonderful resting vessels is real. It is truly a labor of love for the volunteers. “We put the kits, the sides on, the ends on, tops, we build tops for them, we trim them, we do staining, we do handles, we put handles on them, we paint, we stain…we do quite a bit of work goes involved in our task,” said Joe Messinio. “And they are absolutely beautiful when they are done,” said Mike Huether. “We can still turn out two a day,” said Darrell Custer. “Okay,” said Mike Huether. “But it depends on how much the girls can keep up with,” said Darrell Custer. “Oh, oh… So, the women that are helping to provide the liners,” said Mike Huether. “Yesm” answered Darrell Custer. “They are just as important as the men that are, you know, building the urns and the caskets,” said Huether. “Absolutely,” agreed Darrell Custer.
Five women from the Hot Springs area handcraft the exquisite insides of the caskets. “We’re very loyal to the veterans. Four of the five women are married to veterans. And so, we’re very honored to be doing this,” said Jill Sandine. Two-year volunteer, Jill Sandine, explains what is involved. “Tell us the elements of the lining please,” said Mike Huether. “Okay, there’s the bottom, the sidewall, the flap, the pillow, the curtain, and the flags,” said Jill Sandine. “The flags,” said Mike Huether. “And these go on the corner of the open casket,” said Jill Sandine.
My goodness, these folks are special. “There’s no AC in here…It’s hot. It’s even more hot in, in the you know, in the shop. I mean, I’m just… I’m proud of you. I’m proud of what you’re doing,” said Mike Huether.
And when these particular folks are done serving, it sounds like others will be ready to heed the call of duty. “We’ve got other veterans that are thinking about coming in and helping us. And so, we’re going to give them guys the next opportunity to take over. So, when, if and when we did, me and Darrell, get down to the point where we can’t do it anymore, then we’ll pass the torch off to somebody else,” said Joe Messinio.
For now, their only request of you and me is to help spread the word of Veterans Honored Interment. “We would like to make as many, as many veterans aware of this program that we can.That’s one thing I would really like to see,” said Darrell Custer. “We’ve tried to provide all the Veteran Service Officers around the state with the information of the different VFW’s and Legions, but we still get requests from people that have, well just, stumbled on to that possibility,” sais Darrell Custer.
“I want vets to know we’re here for them. We’re here for them. And we’re here to serve them. And if they need help, and they need help with the casket, let us know. We’ll get it to you. I don’t care how we get it to you. We’ll get it to you. We’ll make sure that you get what you need,” said Joe Messino.
“KELOLAND veterans and your family, there you go. Thank you for your service.” said Mike Huether. “Thank you, sir,” said Joe Messinio.
Veterans Honored Internment will celebrate its 20th anniversary of service at a celebration in Hot Springs on September 13th. Please consider donating to this cause: You tax-deductible donation of $350 for a casket or $125 for an urn will make a huge difference.
Donations can be mailed to:
Veterans Honored Interment
c/o The Michael J. Fitzmaurice
2500 Minnekahta Avenue
Hot Springs, SD 57747