Memorial Day Special

More from this show

Visit the Arizona Military Museum, learn about a day resource center for homeless seniors that helps a large percentage of veterans, and meet Korean War POW Arden Rowley.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Thank you for joining us on this special Memorial Day edition of "Horizon." Memorial Day is when we honor those who have given their lives in service. You can learn about wars in which America's service personnel made the ultimate sacrifice by visiting a place that specializes in the subject.

Ted Simons: The Arizona military museum has been around for about 30 years, housed in an historic Adobe building in the Papago park in Phoenix. Visitors get a look at history long before Arizona was a state to the current war on terrorism and all points in between. Here now to tell us more about the museum is Joe Abodeeley, retired Colonel, Vietnam Veteran and the director of the Arizona military museum, good to see you. Thank you for joining us.

Joe Abodeeley: This is a great opportunity to tell people about the museum.

Ted Simons: What's it designed to do?

Joe Abodeeley: To inform people about the military history of Arizona and Arizonans who served in the military, from the conquistadors to the modern war. Iraqi freedom, desert storm. A display about the women in the military and from the Spanish colonial period, the Indian wars. Everybody has seen the Apaches and Geronimo and we do the rough riders. Everybody forgets those rough riders that Teddy Roosevelt was talking about were from Arizona and we have a display called on the border. An expeditionary force went and chased Pancho Villa -- came back and trained and became the famous bushmasters, the combat team who was MacArthur's point element in the islands.

Ted Simons: Talk to me about who operates this museum and how the thing is paid for.

Joe Abodeeley: Well, I'm glad you asked that. Because we're proud of this. We were incorporated in 1975, but actually put the museum together -- actually opened in 1981. Our board and I were elected to do all of this in 198O. Our board are our docents. Nobody has a paid salary. We do all of that. We get no funding except the guard is gracious enough to give us the building and utilities, and when I say we don't get anything, that's a lot. But we operate and clean it. I'm the president and if you come on the weekend, you'll see me sweeping the floor and pounding nails. And all of the board members do the same thing.

Ted Simons: Do you have like special one of a kind sort of stuff?

Joe Abodeeley: We have uniforms and weapons and machine guns and rocket launchers and, oh, yeah, we have some very esoteric, specialized stuff. And we get them from -- people will come in. I remember early on, a World War II guy come in and have a rifle and bring in a Japanese flag and we get weapons assigned to us. We're a certified museum by the Arizona historical society and a official Arizona centennial legacy project.

Ted Simons: Talk to me now -- you referred to this earlier but there's a story regarding the building itself. This is a historic building?

Joe Abodeeley: It's on a historic register. Took a long time to get it there. It was built in '36 to '37 by the works project authority. One of the public works projects that people talk about. I'm old enough to say I wish they'd bring that back. I don't have to explain what WPA is to them. It's an Adobe building, the walls about two feet thick and right now, when all of the rest of the new buildings are dust, that Adobe building will be standing. It's where the motor pool was and the German Nazi U-boaters who were sent on 64th and oak and brought over and worked on the diesel engines.

Ted Simons: I'm sure there's people saying, German POWs, 64th and oak? Indeed. That's a real story.

Joe Abodeeley: They probably made people angry, where the people raised in the Alps to the climate of Arizona.

Ted Simons: The museum is a Arizona legacy project. What does that mean?

Joe Abodeeley: That we're doing things consistent with what the centennial project is, portraying things related to the history of Arizona. There's one thing I need to mention. We have a room, 3,000 square foot dedicated to the Vietnam war. This is important because most living veterans today are Vietnam veterans. I spent my adult life dealing with World War II and could see and now the Vietnam veterans are the old guys we used to make fun of. And the department of defense has a 50th anniversary of the Vietnam war project and Arizona made March 29th Arizona Vietnam's veterans day and we're going to put on a dinner in October -- October 22nd, honoring the Arizona Vietnam veterans.

Ted Simons: Talk to us about future plans. Are they built out here, what's going on here?

Joe Abodeeley: That's an excellent question. we, like all museums have used all of our space. Some say, Joe, why not expand? We can't. We don't have that kind of funding. And money is tight and the arts get the least of funding, as you know. What we do is get donations and give our own money. The department of veterans' services has helped to fund this dinner we're putting on giving us the money to put it on. But we want to be a vehicle for people to come in and honor people of all of these wars and the Vietnam veterans are the -- the old World War II veterans, they're around and this is the only museum in the state -- we have a U -- we have a gun jeep in the middle of the room, uniforms, AK -- we -- it's a neat museum.

Ted Simons: Hours and location?

Joe Abodeeley: 5600 east McDowell. You go in the main gate of the Papago military reservation. 5600 east McDowell would be the best way to get in there and on Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 to 4:00, closed June, July and August, so you have to wait until September again. The rest of this month, we're open, but June, July, August, closed during the summer.

Ted Simons: Saturday and Sunday, get on over there. Last question: What do you want people to take from a visit to this museum?

Joe Abodeeley: That's an excellent question. I want them to appreciate the service of all of these people who have served their country honorably. A lot of people say they care about veterans, I always tell my board, I don't really believe that's true. I'm a veteran, a Vietnam veteran and proud of that. And I try to make people aware of the service of -- of veterans and want them to be aware of this great history. This really colorful military history that's made the great state of Arizona.

Ted Simons: A lot of folks are surprised when they go in there, aren't they?

Joe Abodeeley: Yes, they are.

Ted Simons: Good luck with the museum and we'll keep in touch and if the expansion projects happen, we want to hear about them from you.

Joe Abodeeley: Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: You bet.

Ted Simons: Helping homeless senior citizens get back on their feet is the job of the justa center in downtown Phoenix. Many of those needing help are veterans. I talked to Scott Ritchie, co-founder and executive director of the justa center. Thanks for being here.

Scott Ritchie: Thanks for having us.

Ted Simons: Let me start with the name. What does that mean?

Scott Ritchie: It's actually from a woman in The Bible. Comes out of Matthew or mark's Gospel. She is a Canaanite woman. If you don't have a lot of Friends like myself you spend a Lot of time reading early church Fathers and early church fathers Had given her the name Justa.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Let's talk about the Justa Center itself. What is it designed to do?

Scott Ritchie: It's interesting. It's the only thing in the United States that cares for the Largest and fastest growing Group of homeless in our Country, which is older adults. And no one else was doing this Type of work. So when we created in December Of '06, we just opened our Doors. And we had 13 people that came In. And I said, here's the deal. We are not a detox center. We are not a drop-in center. We are a resource center. What resources do you need to Get out of homelessness? And since that time we have Created this center around that.

Ted Simons: What resources do they need?

Scott Ritchie: So, very simply, we begin Our mornings with coffee, a shower and a newspaper. Just to create some normalcy -- telephone, internet access. We have a chapel service, a Library, and some just some Basic things. Laundry. Then we discovered that we do Three basic things. One, we provide documentation so If a person needs a birth Certificate or I.D. or DD 214 Which is for veterans, we provide that. And so once everyone has their Documents in order and in place, Then the second phase is a Revenue source. Whether that's employment or Your social security or your Pension or a V.A., some kind of Earned benefit, once that's in Place, then, the last phase is To find someone housing. And we categorize that as Independent living, assisted Living, hospice care or reunited with family.

Ted Simons: You seeing more clients down There?

Scott Ritchie: Last year we saw 115 people a Day. We now see 125 per day. We have over 300 folks that we Work with every given month.

Ted Simons: You mention veterans. Talk to us about that because I Know a lot of folks, a lot of Veterans, they can run into some Trouble. And you see them on the streets. You know there are challenges There. What do you see at the center?

Scott Ritchie: That's a hard one. About 40% of our population are Veterans. From World War II, from Korea, And from Vietnam. And most of the men and women That we see have been combat Vets. And have seen and done things That probably no human being Should ever do. And it becomes difficult. In terms of services, we, about A year ago, the vets came to me And said, can you hire somebody To advocate for us? And help us connect with the V.A. and some other resources That we need in terms of Benefits and those kind of Things? That's what we have done. But the vets, I'll just say is This way. It's the most shameful thing I Have seen in the homeless Community of how we have taken Care of our homeless vets, how We have taken care of vets, Period. And especially these older guys And these Vietnam vets.

Ted Simons: What would you want to see Changed?

Scott Ritchie: You know, I think first thing, and this is a really Simple thing but every vet gets A permanent bus pass, lifetime Bus pass because transportation Becomes an issue. But I would like to see job Training, job rehab, vocation Rehab. I would like to see more housing For veterans. I would like to see more housing For older veterans. There is nothing out there for Older adults who are veterans. The U.S. vets has some things They do which is good but there Is no monies that are coming From Federal or state or county That are helping our veterans Who are older in terms of Geriatric care.

Ted Simons: What about V.A. benefits? Certainly those apply in some Way, shape, or form, don't they?

Scott Ritchie: They do. That's one of the goals of the Center is to have our V.A. Advocate and as well as a V.A. Benefit specialist come in and Help give those benefits. But if you need certain other Things, such as you have had Some memory loss or you have Mental illness and you have Behavior issues, where do you Go? Where do you go? Who's going to take care of you?

Ted Simons: You're doing great work. It's good to get you on the program. You have a website.

Scott Ritchie: We do. It's We average a person a day out of the homelessness. 360 people in the past year moved out and 27 people returned into homelessness out of a thousand.

Ted Simons: That's great work there.

Arden Rowley: On November 30th of 1950 The Chinese Communists came across the Manchurian border and completely overran us. My battalion, second engineer combat battalion was acting as a rear guard and my battalion commander ordered our colors to be burned because surrounding and capture was imminent for many of us. Didn't want them to captured by the Chinese communist be used as a trophy at war. And this is an artist's conception of those colors being burned on the 30th of November, 1950. 320 of the men of my battalion were taken prisoners of war at that time. More than 200 were killed during that action. Those who survived and got out held a formation on the 10th of December. There were only 288 out of more than 800-man battalion in the formation that they held there.

Ted Simons: And Joining me is Arden Rowley, a grand marshal in the V.A. parade right here in Phoenix. You're an Arizona native, aren't you?

Arden Rowley: You bet.

Ted Simons: Amazing stuff here. Burning the colors. Talk to us about what happened next.

Ted Simons: That painting, that rendition, what happened next?

Arden Rowley: We were completely overwhelmed and capture was imminent, and the morning of December 1st, the morning after the burning of those colors on the night of the 30th, we were just overwhelmed and many of us taken prisoners of war at that time.

Ted Simons: Talk to us about being a -- let's start with the original experience. You were a prisoner of war for 33 months. There's a lot to go over there.

Arden Rowley: Yes.

Ted Simons: Did it change over those months, the experience?

Arden Rowley: It did somewhat. The first several months were months of starvation, near starvation. With a very meager diet of millet or cracked corn and many men couldn't survive. Many men contracted diseases of malnutrition, such as berry-berry - PELLAGRA, anti-vitaminosis, DYSENTERY was rampant in addition to brutality from the guards and just plain freezing to death.

Ted Simons: I want to get to the abuse in a second. But something we may not think about too much is something as simple as weather. Freezing cold there, wasn't it?

Arden Rowley: It was cold.

Ted Simons: All the time?

Arden Rowley: You're supposed to ask me, "How cold was it?"

Ted Simons: How cold was it?

Arden Rowley: If you spit, it would freeze before it hit the ground.

Ted Simons: That's cold.

Arden Rowley: It was so cold that the engine oil in the vehicles turned to jelly. So cold if you touched a metal object with your hand it, would stick there. Like the tongue on the flagpole. So cold, of course, you were talking to me, the words would come out of your mouth all frozen. I would have to put them in a pot of hot water and thaw them out before I could hear what you said.

Ted Simons: How did you survive something like that?

Arden Rowley: I had practically everything I owned on my body. Six layers on the top and I had four layers from my waist down, heavy wool socks and combat boots and overshoes and still cold.

Ted Simons: Did the other fellows give you trouble for being an Arizona boy?

Arden Rowley: They made fun of me. Hey, a desert rat like you, how are you standing this?

Ted Simons: Obviously, survived it. 33 months, had to be exceedingly rough times.
Arden Rowley: We Marched for 24 nights and marched at night to keep us out of sight of the American aircraft. We had complete air superiority at that time. And put us in buildings along the route of march -- stay there all day and then March again the next -- when it got dark again. For 24 nights and from the first of December, and we walked into our first POW camp the morning after those 24 nights which made it Christmas day.

Ted Simons: My goodness.

Arden Rowley: Stayed -- the -- our captors kept us there for three and a half weeks in the POW camp, the diseases I mentioned were taking hold and men became very weak. In fact all along the March, we had to half carry and half drag those that were wounded so they didn't fall out of the column of March, so the guards would probably shoot them if they did. We arrived at that POW camp and stayed for the three and a half weeks and during that time, 300 to 350 men died of the things that I mentioned.

Ted Simons: Right.

Arden Rowley: From the --

Ted Simons: Describe the conditions -- and it sounds like you were at more than one camp. But describe just the general conditions of a camp.

Arden Rowley: Filth.

Ted Simons: That's it, huh? Overall filth?

Arden Rowley: One of the saving graces was the fact it was so cold. Even at that, in the rooms, we were crammed in so tightly, and festering of the wounds of certain men and so forth, it became -- we became used to it, but I can imagine somebody from outside, somebody in the states would be put right in the middle of one of our rooms probably would have passed out.

Ted Simons: Uh-huh.

Arden Rowley: It was very, very difficult. Especially the men who had dysentery couldn't control themselves.

Ted Simons: Right.

Arden Rowley: But -- the second POW camp I was in later, a little bit later, got there on January 26th of -- of 1951, and another three and a half months or so, another 1600 men died. Out of the some 7,140 American servicemen who became prisoners, 3,500 of us came home.

Ted Simons: We have a picture you when you were released from the POW camp. And the picture shows a relatively healthy looking young man, but you're saying that's only because they knew they were going to release you, they started to fatten you up?

Arden Rowley: It was on the 18th of August that I was released. So there's more than a three -- three weeks. They started to give us food we hadn't seen in 33 months and I'm sure that's part of the reason I looked fairly healthy. Quite frankly, over my whole experience I was fairly healthy and I was able at times because I was relatively healthy and strong, I had a chance to help my fellow POWs and I could tell you half a dozen stories but time wouldn't permit.

Ted Simons: I am sure you could. You mentioned your health and I want to get to post-war experiences because you've had experience with the V.A. Some folks aren't positive about the V.A. for a variety of reasons. You are. Talk to us about it.

Arden Rowley: You know, before I made contact with the V.A., it wasn't until 1983, 30 years after I came home. I was contacted and said you need to come for a protocol exam. I was examined and given a disability rating. Small at first. But from that point on, my wife could see a difference. We -- I became involved in POW groups that would talk about their experiences. And quite frankly, my wife at times -- I never know whether you're going to come home mad or in a good mood. And it was -- it was discovered that most -- POW wives got together at the first POW reunion we went to in 1983 also and they said is your husband always mad? Well, there was kind of a consensus that -- but those reunions and getting together with my fellow former POWs and talking and saying, remember when this happened and -- there were a thousand remember-whens and in the ensuing years, my wife tells me I mellowed a lot.

Ted Simons: Isn't that interesting?

Arden Rowley: And because of the services of the V.A.

Ted Simons: Indeed. And also -- along with those services and post-traumatic stress disorder and being able to address that, you have strong feelings about veterans talking about their war experiences. Some don't want any part of it. You say --

Arden Rowley: I feel strongly.

Ted Simons: Talk to us about that.

Arden Rowley: The first reunion I went to, Dayton, Ohio, 1983, obviously, we would sit down and talk and remember this and that? And some POW would say, "I don't want to remember that. I want to forget it." NAH, I don't remember that. And I simply replied, I don't want to forget one second of my experience. If I forgot, I would forget those hundreds of men who sacrificed their lives in the POW camps for freedom. And it would dishonor them if I forgot. So I want to remember. Remember to honor them.

Ted Simons: You also have honored these men and all veterans at your house. You used to have a monument in your front yard.

Arden Rowley: I still do.

Ted Simons: You still do?

Arden Rowley: Let me tell you about this, Ted.

Ted Simons: Please do.

Arden Rowley: There was a pine tree in our front yard leaning precariously to one side and we took it off. And I got to thinking about what to put in the bare spot and asked my wife, honey, what if I -- what if we put a Korean war memorial in our front yard? And so we did. I had a granite monument carved and placed there and a 20-foot flagpole that has the U.S. flag and the POW flag flying underneath it. And dedicated that memorial on veterans' day of 1997. When Memorial Day rolled around in 1998, late may, we decided to have a small memorial service and we invited the neighborhood. We had 40 people there. In 1998, Memorial Day. We continued that memorial service every year for eight years. And gradually grew and the last one we held in 2006 we had over 600 people in our front yard and bleachers on the street. The city blocked off the street and set up bleachers for us. It was a good patriotic program honoring those who gave their lives. We had a memorial wreath which members from the audience came and placed a flag for someone they wanted to remember in that regard, in the sacrifice they made for their country.

Ted Simons: If you have comments about "Horizon," please contact us at the address listed on the screen. Your name and comments may be used on a future edition of "Horizon."

A graphic for the Arizona PBS news show,
airs April 27

New and local

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

Earth Day Challenge graphic with the Arizona PBS logo and an illustration of the earth

Help us meet the Earth Day Challenge!

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 12

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: