Rename VA Clinic after Local WWII Veteran

Rename VA Clinic after Local WWII Veteran

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Kamea Okalani started this petition to Senator Steve Daines and

Congressmen honor remarkable veterans by naming VA clinics after them posthumously. In Billings, Benjamin Steele and Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, and in Havre, Merril Lundman. The Department of Veterans Affairs debuted their new VA clinic in Great Falls on July 31, 2020. Our congressmen should extend this honor to a World War II Veteran and a fixture of Great Falls for nearly his entire life, Mr. Edward P. Bucko, Sr. He turned 106 in August and sadly, passed away on Friday, September 25, 2020.

Mr. Edward P. Bucko, Sr. a modest, humble and incredibly kind man, known as an inventor, musician, a vintner of chokecherry wine, carpenter, and once a model for a Charlie Russell caricature, lived and died in Great Falls. Born in Nokomis, Illinois in August of 1914, Mr. Bucko moved to Great Falls, Montana with his family a couple years later. Growing up, he knew he would join the service but after high school, he first traveled the states with his musical troupe. One fateful day, the troupe’s success ended when the trailer carrying the instruments caught fire. Bucko rushed into the trailer to save the instruments, but the flames were too high. His band members pulled him out of the trailer but not before the blaze had burned his arms. The fire destroyed the troupe’s entire livelihood… their instruments and effectively ended their musical careers. Mr. Bucko returned home and “did what his father asked of him”, he took the job at the “Smelter” that his father had arranged for him. In his twenties, Mr. Bucko and Mike Mansfield (he was a U.S. Representative and a U.S. Senator from Montana and the longest-serving Senate Majority Leader) lived in the same neighborhood. Mike Mansfield reportedly told Bucko about Mansfield’s time in the Navy and after that he “was sold on it.”

In October of 1940, Bucko enlisted in the military. He completed bootcamp at Ft. Lewis and then transferred to St. Louis for 8 months. During that short timeframe, he recruited soldiers who were some of the best musicians and started the first St. Louis military band. Bucko’s officers were reportedly very proud of the band. In November 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred and Bucko was subsequently transferred to Albuquerque’s Kirtland Army Air Base (later named Kirtland Air Force Base) where he helped train soldiers that piloted the heavy bombers. Per Kirtland AFB website, "During World War II, personnel at Kirtland Field trained several thousand aircrew members for duty on the Army Air Forces B-17, B-24, and B-29 bombers which saw action in all theaters of the war. For most of World War II, the base's major training schools, including bombardier, multi-engine transition, and combat crew training, operated at full capacity." Bucko worked long and hard 12-hour shifts training soldiers and repairing the bombers. In doing so, he had continual exposure to a chemical readily used on the bombers for maintenance purposes called Carbon Tetrachloride   Unfortunately, after its continuous use, Bucko became ill and ended up in the hospital for 10 days. Afterwards, Bucko faced a medical discharge, as he could not return to his prior post. However, Bucko chose to continue his military career by using his trade that he picked up from working at the Great Falls Smelter and transferred to Langley, Virginia. Here, he worked as a foundry pattern maker building models of the planes, used in the war, to make each aircraft more efficient.

After World War II ended, he returned to Great Falls where he went to work as a contractor building homes. He stated, “I built 15 homes in only 2-3 years.” He also pitched numerous ideas to the City of Great Falls to boost tourism. One idea included a tower with a gondola to transport passengers across the falls. Numerous times Bucko had submitted the schematics, including a mock advertisement, to the newspaper and local city officials.

Bucko also offered free music lessons to local children. Bucko stated, “I always had music in me” but his craft suffered during the war. As a musician, unable to play his instrument(s), he lost his competitive edge and his professional musical career ended. Once home from the war, he decided to build violins, give them away and offer free music lessons. Not only did Bucko play a pivotal support role in World War II, he also dedicated his life to improving our Great Falls Community with his many talents. This amazing, generous man deserves the honor of having the Great Falls VA Clinic name changed to the Edward P. Bucko, Sr. VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinic. 

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