A U.S. Senate bill that would name two Billings veterans clinics after local war heroes passed the United States Senate last week.

Cosponsored by Sens. Steve Daines, a Republican, and Jon Tester, a Democrat, S. 1282 would name two U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Clinics on the West End after Joe Medicine Crow and Ben Steele.

If passed, Medicine Crow's name would adorn the VA's outpatient clinic. The specialty clinic would be named after Steele.

The bill would also name a Missoula VA clinic after World War II vet David J. Thatcher, who participated in the Doolittle Raid in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

It passed the Senate on Aug. 2.

“David Thatcher, Joe Medicine Crow, and Ben Steele are Montana’s heroes and America’s heroes,” Tester said in a press release. “These three represent the greatest generation and what is best about Montana, and today we are one step closer to ensuring future generations will forever remember their brave service."

Steele and Medicine Crow, both of whom died in 2016, are celebrated area veterans. 

Known as the last Crow war chief, Medicine Crow joined the Army in 1943. During his service he fulfilled the requirements needed to be a war chief, which are leading a war party, touching the first fallen enemy and stealing his weapon, and entering an enemy camp and stealing horses.

Medicine Crow was a lifelong ambassador for the Crow tribe. Among his honors is the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which he received from President Barack Obama in 2009.

He died in April 2016 at 102.

Steele joined the Army Air Corps in 1940 and is well-known as a survivor of the Bataan Death March, a perilous journey for prisoners of war at the hands of the Japanese. 

Steele later captured that experience in his artwork. After the war, he honed that craft as an art teacher at Eastern Montana College, now Montana State University Billings.

He died in September 2016 at the age of 98.

Both men have already been honored by the Billings school district. Medicine Crow Middle School opened its doors for the 2016 school year last fall. Ben Steele Middle School is scheduled to open this coming fall.

S. 1282 will go to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.


General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.