Archie Lopp 55

Archie grew up primarily in Warren Michigan, with a single mother, Elsie, and a younger sister. Even though there was no man in the house, Archie credits his mother with raising him to be a man. He moved around a little, but always within Michigan.

In 1976 he joined the Army, he felt it was the right thing to do, and to this day does not regret his decision. He was an E4, and at the time he left the military he was acting as an E6 and was a radio repairman for the Army. During his last year in the Army he was in charge of 18 M60A Duce Tanks, 3 Jeeps, and 1 APC. Archie feels that it is tanks to the Army that he learned leadership skills. Had it not been for the Army, he would not have been employed with an auto parts shipping and receiving company for 20 years, and would not have been the manager of that company.

Archie is the proud father one daughter, Darcy. As a result of his stay at the Willis Cruse House he is trying to reach out and get back in touch with her. When Archie was younger, he went looking for his father, and he didn’t like what he found, because his father was an alcoholic. “I knew that I didn’t want my child to grow up with a father like that, or for her to think of her father that way.” Archie has been clean and sober since 1979.

Archie stayed in Michigan for a time after the Army to take care of his ailing mother. He states that he’d always been so involved in taking care of others, and now that it’s just him, he needs to take care of himself. Archie was working as a 24 hour a day home healthcare provider in Missoula, and had been for a number of years. He feels that the reason he ended up homeless was because he was just burnt out. As a result of this he lost his place to live.

He feels that his time at The Willis Cruse House has given him an opportunity not to need to “worry about where I’m going to lay my head at night.” It has also give him a chance “To worry about getting my health in order.” He feels that for a long time his health had taken a backseat to his desire to help others, and said “Now that I’m getting older, my body is telling me- ‘Hey, danger!’”

Archie’s goals right now are to get healthier, go back to work, maybe even school “Anything is open at this point,” he says with a grin.

His hobbies include- investing in stocks, going to the gym (3-4 days a week), walking nature trails, fishing, skiing, mountain climbing and horseback riding.

He feels there need to be more places like the Willis Cruse House helping OUR Veterans. He says “Some of these young people coming home now, won’t have a place to come home to. They’re going to need help dealing with psychological issues.” He says “I’ve never been in combat, but I can sympathize with them. Even when the dust settles, there are still going to be problems when the get home.”

“We can’t send our young ones to battle, and then toss them away. There needs to be help. Archie also stated that “there were issues when people got back from Vietnam, and no one would help them. This time around at least there’s a start to deal with it.”

 

Donald, 63

Donald grew up in Browning Montana on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation, on his family owned ranch. He and his extended family worked the ranch raising cattle. When Donald was 16 he left the ranch to pursue his dream of “being a real cowboy.”

In 1966 Donald’s older brother was killed in Vietnam. But December of 1969, at 19 years old Donald joined the Army. He was sent to Vietnam, where he served an 11 month tour the first time, and was 3 months into his second tour when the helicopter he was riding in was shot down. Donald sustained broken legs, broken hips, the loss of some teeth, and some cuts. He was sent to a hospital in New Zealand to recover, and when he was stable enough he was transported to Fort Hood Texas to further recover. After that he was sent to Fort Fitzsimons in Denver for rehabilitation, and the to a permanent duty station at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs.

When Donald came home to his family, he found himself to be very angry. He would lash out at others. He bounced from job to job saying “You didn’t want people to get to know you, because if they did they’d know where you’d been. Coming home from Vietnam wasn’t like it is today. You didn’t want to tell anyone where you’d been. People didn’t care that you were a Veteran. They were very judgmental.” Donald says “I was so angry, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I knew there was something wrong, but I didn’t know how to handle it, or how to ask for help.” He recalls his Aunt telling him “No one could help you, we didn’t know how, and you wouldn’t let us.”

Some years later Donald was diagnosed at Fort Harrison with PTSD, he credits fellow Veteran Rudy Riley with him seeking help. Donald says that when he got out to the VA the doctors he’d seen actually apploigized to him saying “We’re sorry. You slipped through the cracks.”

Donald has been a resident of the Willis Cruse House for only a few weeks, but already he says “I like it, I think it provides a dignified way to get back into society. This is a place to make changes.” He further says “It’s still hard to trust people, but I’m learning. I’ve been away from society and people and society for so long, it’s a tough adjustment.”

Donald feels that when our Veterans return from overseas that they should “have a place to go and process what they’re going through, and the things that they’ve seen. Maybe somewhere with animals, because you can learn to trust an animal easier than a person. They provide unconditional love.” He .reflects “I think if I’d had something like that when I got back, I would have been better. I wouldn’t have gotten into trouble, because I’d have something to keep me busy, like work therapy. The one’s returning need to know that it’s okay to feel. When I came back no one told you it was okay to have feelings. Rage, fear-no one said it’s okay. We need to show others that it’s okay, and that they can adjust. They should be allowed to process the anger.”

Donald’s goals for the future are to go to school, and open a dairy. He wants to make it a work program for veterans. They’d stay on the farm and learn how to work with others, and get some training. Donald would even like to offer certification so that when the veteran felt ready to leave the dairy farm he or she could go out and have a marketable skill.

Donald’s hobbies are working with horse hair, leather working and archery.

When he was asked where he’d be without the Willis Cruse House or the Montana Veterans Foundation he stated “If I didn’t get in here I’d be in prison or worse. “

 

Gregory Agrafiotis 51

Greg grew up in Hooksett New Hampshire with his brother and 2 sisters. He joined the National Guard in 1978 at the end of his senior year in high school.

He chose to go into the National Guard because he wanted to serve, and also his father was in full time, and his grandfather was in WWI, so there was a military tradition in his family. He was also very interested in and quick with military history. He was involved in artillery training at Fort Sill. After the National Guard, Greg had the opportunity to go on Active Duty, and was sent to Wertheim Germany, and served in the 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery.

Once he was out of the Army in 1988 he pursued his teaching certificate at Franklin Pierce College. He wanted to teach middle school students. New Hampshire at that time was not looking to hire, so he spent 6 years working as a para-professional, and 12 years as a substitute teacher.

Also in that time Greg was taking care of his ailing mother, where he lived until she passed away. At which point he realized that there wasn’t anything holding him to New Hampshire, and began doing research on places to move. He found Helena. He found that there was a demand for teachers, and he could pursue his desire to teach. His brother in-law also told him that Montana had a high reputation for taking care of their veterans. And according to Greg, he was right!

So Greg “rolled the dice, packed the car and headed west.” Upon arriving in Helena Greg found that there wasn’t many homeless shelters, and ended up out at Fort Harrison VA. There he learned about the Willis Cruse House, and his benefits eligibility. He stated that the people out at Fort Harrison really helped him out, and took great care of him. He said “other parts of the country aren’t like that; Montana is doing much better by their veterans then others.” He also said with a smile “Helena seems like it’s still the 70’s, not technologically, but because everyone’s still very kind. And even though it’s not that small, it still has a great small town feel to it.”

Greg has been in the Willis Cruse House since January 7th, and he is incredibly thankful that he is. He says he’s “very fortunate not to be on the street, and it was miraculous that there was an opening, I don’t know I’d have done otherwise.” He says “This house made the gamble I took pay off, I’ve learned a lot about the VA, and have been able to network and meet people.” He is also extremely excited about being able to get dental care thanks to the Willis Cruse House. He figured when leaving New Hampshire, he “had nothing to lose.” He said that the house was “the right thing, right place and the right time!”

Right now what Greg wants to do is be able to teach, and maybe get a job at a summer camp. His goal is to be self-sufficient by the summer so he can get his own apartment.

Greg says he’s really grateful to the Montana Veterans Foundation for having the Willis Cruse House. “Without it, there would be a lot of people out there in trouble.” He also said that even when he gets his own place he’d like to remain active within the Montana Veterans Foundation, he wants to keep the connection to the community. He would like to stay until he’s back on his feet then he wants to give his spot to someone else who needs it.

Of working at the Thrift Store, Greg says it’s like saying “Thank you to the MTVF.”

Greg thinks that there needs to be more places like the Willis Cruse House, because our returning Veterans need a place to transition back into their communites. He says “The Willis Cruse House is like a stand in for peoples families and communities. Things have changed dramatically in the time they’ve been gone, and they’re going to need a place like this. The tidal wave of returning vets in need is just beginning. This is the calm before the storm.”

“My stay here will be short term, but I want to keep the connection.”

*All Veterans Interviewed Signed Legally Binding Releases of their Stories