Legionnaire of the Year: Art Wanner has a heart for veterans
Whenever a veterans event is held in Dickinson, there's a good chance that Legionnaire and veteran Art Wanner had something to do with it.
Working behind the scenes or serving as a featured speaker, Wanner has dedicated many hours of his time in support of veterans.
His work hasn't gone unnoticed. This summer, he received the Legionnaire of the Year Award from the American Legion Department of North Dakota. Selection was based on service to the Legion (75 percent) and service to community, state and nation. The nomination was submitted by fellow member, Stan Davis, who was commander of Matthew Brew Post No. 3 at the time.
"For one reason, he's commander of the Honor Guard and he does lots of behind-the-scenes and above-the-scenes work—not only does he deserve the award, he earned it," Davis said. "Art's mind never shuts down --he's always trying to figure out what's best for the Legion. On a personal note, he's like a father-figure, if I need advice, I can call him up—everybody agreed." The events surrounding Veterans Day on Nov. 11 are an example of Wanner's service. He was the featured speaker at a Veterans Day program at Hebron.
"I talked about the fact that people don't have any idea of what those veterans have gone through and cannot understand unless there's a chance to really sit down and visit with them," he said.
He greeted veterans at St. Luke's and CountryHouse, while Davis went to Hawks Point for their programs. The Legion Honor Guard participated in a program at Evergreen where two of its members—LeRoy Mosbrucker and Richard Rice—now reside. Then, the Honor Guard played Taps during the Veterans Day program in Dickinson.
Wanner wasn't always involved in military affairs.
"I was the least informed of the military of anybody in the world before I enlisted in the National Guard," he said.
He enlisted in 1965 in the Guard at Dickinson as a combat engineer and three years later, attended Officer Candidate School.
"I had a six-year obligation and so when people said if you go into the service, make something of yourself—that's what I tried to do," he said.
He went to Hettinger as a platoon leader, back to Dickinson as an executive officer, to Williston as company commander, back to Dickinson as company commander, then to Minot as a platoon logistics officer, over to the Bismarck state headquarters, then to Devils Lake as troop subsistence issue officer and then back to Bismarck as state logistics officer.
"I put on a lot of miles," he said with a smile.
He retired in 1996 just shy of 32 years of military service.
Wanner was persuaded by George Petermann to join the Forty & Eight (originally an arm of the American Legion, and now an independent veteran's organization.)
"There's no point of being a member if you don't participate," Wanner said. "The big thing was the Honor Guard—that has turned into the best non-paying job I've ever had."
"When there's a funeral I make a point to ask families about the deceased person's history, and virtually nobody knows anything about it. (The soldier) never told anybody and that is absolutely frustrating. There are so many stories that went to the grave, and there's some good ones out there."
Wanner is on a first-name basis with all the funeral homes when an Honor Guard is requested at a funeral. Anybody who has an honorable discharge is eligible for military funeral benefits such as a flag and the playing of Taps. The Honor Guard has a register of some 18 men, and of those, up to 12 volunteers gladly take the time to come.
When Stan Davis thought it would be nice to have a Stark County Veterans Memorial placed near the bandshell, Wanner was among the first to get on board.
Through the organized efforts of the Stark County Veterans Memorial Association, the memorial has become a reality.
"We had a big discussion on how to list the names on the memorial —several wanted to list ranks. I said no, just the names, which means now that everybody is equal, everybody served and gave some part of their life," Wanner said. "I've seen lots of tears shed at the memorial—if I see somebody there, I go up and talk to them. Those people appreciate it so much. They say the memorial is as beautiful as any they've ever seen."
Art's wife Char added, "I remember when we were raising money for the memorial—there were some big donations, but the majority of the donations came from little grandmas and grandpas from their Social Security checks—it was a lot of money for them."
Then there's the Stark County Veterans Pavilion that's being constructed near the memorial. It's scheduled to be completed by Feb. 1. It will serve as a meeting place for all veteran organizations and related entities..
"The community has been wonderful—this is our hard work paying off," Davis said.
When the Legion launched a concession stand during the First on First Dickinson Summer Nites band series, Art was there to help as needed. He's been there to help with a Veterans Hog Roast, Christmas parties and monthly meetings.
Art, 75, retired from Job Service North Dakota after 32 years of service. He and his wife have six children together and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And Art's bucket list still has projects—he wants to go on a World War tour of Europe from England to Germany, and maybe jump in the car and drive to Alaska.
"We haven't done that yet," he said.