With his son-in-law battling metastatic colon cancer and learning he was going to live out the remainder of his life in a wheelchair, an Iowa American Legion Rider went to his chapter to see if there was any way it could assist in putting a new deck onto the son-in-law’s home.
And that’s when Legion Rider Loras Mensen learned something about his fellow Riders.
On Oct. 25, a group of Legion Riders from Chapter 45 in Manchester, Iowa, spent their day building a new deck for U.S. Army combat engineer veteran Chad McDowell, Mensen’s son-in-law and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“He’d been hanging in there, but this summer it came out that none of the treatments were working anymore,” said Mensen, who serves as commander of American Legion Post 436 in Earlville. “He was beginning to do a downhill slide, mentally as well, but he hid it well. But when we were together, you could tell it was wearing on him.
“The doctors told him down the road, and that he might as well start getting ready, that … in order to stay at his house, he was going to need a ramp and an ADA-accessible shower.”
Mensen said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was going to provide a ramp to McDowell’s house, but it needed to be able to attach to a solid deck. “The floor of the deck, when you walked across it, it would sponge,” Mensen said. “It was not built anywhere close to any kind of code.”
In addition to coming up with the cost of replacing the deck, McDowell also was having to travel to Iowa City – a 140-mile round trip – three times a month. So Mensen first approached Chapter 45 to share the situation with them, though he was reluctant to bring it up because McDowell was his son-in-law.
“They immediately said, ‘Don’t worry about that. He’s still a veteran,’” Mensen said. “With that, we went forward. And I brought it up at the Earlville post meeting, and the Earlville post donated $500 for (McDowell’s) medical transportation.”
The cost of the deck was determined and shared with Chapter 45, and Mensen said the chapter immediately donated $1,000 to be used for medical transportation and other living and comfort expenses. Then the Riders unanimously passed a motion to provide the material and labor to build the ramp.
“I was pretty much floored at that point,” Mensen said. “That was way more than I was ever hoping for.”
Chapter 45 put the word out about the project, and a group of seven Riders made the two-hour ride to McDowell’s home to tear his old deck down and begin construction on the new deck. The deck was completed by late afternoon, and the rails were added to it the following morning. The VA has hired someone to construct the ramp to the new deck later this month.
Mensen said he was amazed by the effort his fellow Riders put forth to assist a veteran that some had never met. “It really says that they’re behind and ready to support veterans that needed supported,” he said. “Some of them knew Chad … but a lot of the newer members had no idea who he was. They were all behind it. It tells me that as a group of Legion Riders, as a group of veterans, we are ready to help any veteran that needs help the best way we can.”