Governor Daugaard’s Weekly Column: Michael J. Fitzmaurice and the New State Veterans Home

daugaardheader DaugaardMichael J. Fitzmaurice and the New State Veterans Home
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:

Until he went abroad to serve his country, Michael J. Fitzmaurice had never left the Dakotas. Fitzmaurice was born in Jamestown, North Dakota, and grew up in South Dakota. Coming from a family with a history of serving, Michael carried on the tradition by joining the Army in 1969.

On March 23, 1971, Michael was on the ground at a Marine base in Khe Sanh, South Vietnam. When an enemy soldier threw three grenades into Michael’s bunker, Michael threw two of the explosives out and then used his body to cover the blast of the third. Absorbing the blast to shield the other soldiers left him seriously wounded and partially blinded.

Michael then charged out of the bunker. Figuring he wouldn’t survive the engagement, he wanted to do what he could to protect his fellow soldiers. As he was fighting, his weapon was destroyed by another grenade. Unable to find another weapon, Michael resorted to hand-to-hand combat and successfully took down a number of adversaries.

In sustaining the blast from the grenade and refusing to be evacuated until the battle was finished, Michael saved multiple lives that day. He later received the Medal of Honor for his acts of heroism.

I am reminded of this story as we are preparing to cut the ribbon on the new state veterans home in Hot Springs, which has been named after Michael J. Fitzmaurice.

Overcoming a few setbacks along the way, the home has been completed on time, under budget, and it’s debt-free.

The new 133,000-square-foot facility contains 76 nursing care beds and 24 residential beds, and is home to World War II, Korean War, Vietnam and peace time veterans. The residential areas of the veterans home are divided into eight neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has its own laundry room, living room, dining room, kitchen and whirlpool suite. Elsewhere in the building, residents have an in-house library, mini mart, barber shop and beauty salon, post office, pharmacy, bistro and chapel.

This first-class facility is exactly what our veterans deserve. The layout of the building will give residents more privacy and control over their lives. It will be a normalized environment where residents can do their own cooking and shopping, and where they can socialize or keep to themselves as they please.  It is an outstanding facility named for a remarkable man.

Of his acts of bravery Michael later said, “I don’t know what made me do it. I was just doing the job that I was supposed to be doing and I do not regret it a bit. I guess your friends aren’t only your friends. They’re almost like brothers. I’m glad that they can still be alive and enjoy the rest of their life.”

Now, at the new state veterans home that carries this local patriot’s name, South Dakota’s veterans not only have a nice place to live, but a home where they can “enjoy the rest of their life.”