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Rancher Builds Memorial To Nation's Veterans

Photo by Brenda Kleinjan, SDREA

A South Dakota rancher has created a memorial to America’s military veterans on land that’s been in his family for generations. What started as a simple dedication to his father who was a Korean War veteran…has expanded into an elaborately designed tribute to men and women of all races and backgrounds who’ve served the nation. SDPB’s Jim Kent traveled to Eden, South Dakota to view the veterans memorial and has this report.

It’s a lonely winding road that runs along the western edge of the Lake Traverse Reservation from the town of Sisseton to the village of Eden. Bordered irregularly on both sides by inlets of Buffalo Lake and low hills dotted by rustic homes it takes about 10 minutes to reach the property owned by Jim Janisch.

Although it’s pretty much “in the middle of nowhere”, his land can be seen from a distance and is immediately recognizable by the extensive white picket fenceline that borders a veterans memorial Janisch says he only began to create 5 months ago with an American flag.

Credit Photo by Jim Kent
South Dakota rancher Jim Janisch.

“In the end of May I put it up,” Janisch recalls. “ And I was…I put it up and I put solar lights around the base of it and I had a solar light on top of the flag…so that it was lit up at night. And a veteran caught me in Eden one morning…after breakfast…and he shook my hand and he thanked me for flying that flag so high. And he asked me what I was doing. And I said I was gonna’ put up a small memorial for my father.”

Janisch’s father died 4 years ago. Francis Janisch served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. And though he didn’t see combat, his son still felt he should be honored for serving his country.

“And that veteran met me and shook my hand and thanked me for flying that flag so proud,” Janisch remembers. “And I figured…I went home and…I decided I’d do something for all the veterans.”

Credit Courtesy Jim Janisch
Patio stones painted white and laid in beds of blue and red rubber landscaping bits honor each of the nation's military branches.

Following through on his commitment, Janisch went shopping and came back with a white vinyl picket fence to erect around the memorial’s perimeter. It took Janisch a few days to install the fence, working by himself at times until midnight. That’s when people started noticing that something was going on at the Janisch property. And help was on the way,

“So then after the fence…I went back and I bought patio stones is what I used…round patio stones,” explains Janisch. “And I had 3 little boys…my cousins…they were 6 to 10 years old helped me paint them. And then they had a 16-year old brother too that helped. And we painted them. And then I bought the stencils and I spray-painted the letters of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard on them.”

And “U.S.M.C” for the Marine Corps. But people couldn’t tell exactly what the stones symbolized. So, Janisch bought pieces of landscaping rubber colored blue and red and laid the stones on them vertically in front of the flags of the corresponding military services. Janisch’s next step was to purchase sculptures to be placed around the memorial. One indication of his dedication to the seriousness of the project is shown in his choice to drive 100 miles to Alexandria, Minnesota to buy those sculptures.

Credit Courtesy Jim Janisch
Statue of bald eagle keeps watch over U.S. military flags at Francis Janisch Family Veterans Memorial.

“What made you choose there?”I ask.

“The guy that I talked to on the phone,” Janisch replies. “He wanted…right away I told him what I was doing…I was making a memorial for the veterans…and he wanted to get involved. I could tell by his, voice that he wanted to get involved.”

Jansich’s first purchase was statues of a bald eagle, a soldier and an angel. The bald eagle was placed on a huge rock observing the military flags while the angel was the first of two that would stand watch over an area Janisch had added to pay tribute to Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action.

The soldier was the first of six similar statues positioned to guard the memorial’s gates. Each is dedicated to a serviceman from the area…including 2 members of the Sisseton-Whapeton tribe. At the request of a veteran who visited the memorial, Janisch added a section to honor those nurses who served in the military. He’ll purchase an appropriate statue to place in that area...but Janisch notes that the memorial won’t stop there.

Credit Courtesy Jim Janisch
Statues of 6 soldiers are dedicated to servicemen from the Northeastern area of South Dakota; 2 to members of the Sisseton-Whapeton tribe.

“It’s gonna’ get quite a bit larger this next year,” explains Janisch. “I’ve got some landscaping that a guy said he’d come and do for me. And it’s gonna’ get bigger this next Spring if I get time in between farming and ranching to do it. And I’m gonna’ try to get the Eagle Scouts and the Boy Scouts involved this next year with the kids…to try to get them involved to do some of the work with me. Just to show the younger generation what it’s all about. I mean. It’s getting people to understand more about what our veterans did and…what they sacrificed.”

Several miles away from the Francis Janisch Family Veterans Memorial is the home of Roy Cleveland. The Korean War veteran has known Jim Janisch for years. Cleveland began stopping by to visit with Jansich as he worked on the memorial. He also helped paint the flag poles and accompanied Janisch to buy some of the statues. Cleveland isn’t much of a talker.

“I appreciate it” says Cleveland, referring to the veterans memorial.

“What kind of feeling do you get when you stand there and look at that memorial?” I ask.

“Well…I really…I can’t answer that,” he replies. “I mean…I know it’s a….it’s a feeling…it’s a good feeling.”

Credit Photo by Jim Kent
Korean War veteran Roy Cleveland.

Other Veterans come and see the monument. Larry Zimmerman is Secretary of Veterans Affairs for South Dakota. He stopped by the Janisch Family Veterans Memorial with a group of veterans attending a nearby golf tournament. Zimmerman describes what he saw as “an amazing feat that one individual has taken on”.

“He’s recognized all of the services,” Zimmerman observes. “He recognizes some individual veterans that have fallen from that area. And to see the individual statues and the lit flag pole on the hillside at night when you’re coming up over the hill…out in the middle of nowhere…by a cornfield…is just amazing.”

One indication of the support Janisch is receiving for his project is the transformer and electricity required to light the veterans memorial. Both are being provided free of charge by the local electric co-operative. 

Credit Courtesy Jim Janisch
The statue of an angel watches over patio stones painted white and laid in beds of blue and red rubber landscaping bits to honor the nation's military Prisoners Of War and those Missing In Action.

More than 3000 people have signed the guest book Jim Janisch placed at the memorial on July 3…finding their way to the site primarily by word-of-mouth.

Janisch notes that his largest plan for the future is constructing an immense American flag made from red, white and blue bricks. Expected to be located to the west of the memorial, bricks will have the name, military branch and dates of service for each veteran – or veteran’s family – who’d like to buy one.

Unlike the area within the memorial, the bricks that make up the flag will not be laid out according to branch of service. Instead, they’ll be placed according to how fate chooses them when they’re purchased. Janisch hopes this will act as a reminder that those who serve in the military do so regardless of their race, where they’re from, or their religious preference.

Jim Janisch adds that at a time when our country is so divided by so many issues, understanding the selflessness of veterans may help each of us learn to respect one another.