Story and Photos by Tim Sproles
When you approached the Post 830 booth, temporarily displayed at the Indiana War Memorial in downtown Indianapolis, you could hear people rave about the attention to detail and craftsmanship of the model ships on display. The cell phones came out, pictures were taken and questions asked — and that is when the story of these detailed models becomes really interesting.
You can hear the visitors’ shock when they learn that each one of these models was made by hand using only craft sticks. The reactions vary when people find out that these models were created by incarcerated Legionnaires.
American Legion Post 830 in New Castle, Indiana, functions just like any other Legion post around the Hoosier State. They hold regular meetings, take part in community service projects and help their fellow veterans through various Legion programs. The only difference is that Post 830 operates out of a prison, the New Castle Correctional Facility.
In 2013, the correctional facility started offering a special program called H-Unit Military Veterans, or HUMV, to eligible incarcerated veterans.
The HUMV program offers assistance and rehabilitation opportunities specifically designed to not only help individual veterans but also support them in helping each other.
Steve Wilson, a graduate of the HUMV program and former resident of the New Castle Correctional Facility, said, “We had educational opportunities and specific training on how to deal with PTSD. All of it centered around re-entry into society.”
Wilson said that the project to construct these ships began in the HUMV program.
“There are multiple craft projects within the program, but members of our post wanted to do something to honor each of our military branches. We wanted to let fellow veterans outside of these walls know that we still think about them and want to honor their service.”
The first model the group created was of the USS Indianapolis, CA-35. Using only nail clippers, sandpaper, glue, paint, craft sticks and an extremely large amount of patience, they were able to build the ship. If the use of limited tools isn’t impressive enough, take into account that available documentation on the real vessel was very limited.
Wilson said, “We really had to take what we could get. We had a few black-and-white photos to go off, and a listing of the specs and design features for the Portland-Class Heavy Cruiser. It’s almost like putting together a puzzle.”
A “puzzle” that took over 950 craft sticks and over 1,000 hours to complete.
Ron Patterson, who acts as the Legion liaison to Post 830, says that he has enjoyed seeing the team come together.
He said, “I have been working with these guys for about a year now. A lot of them have nobody, but the bond that these Legionnaires have has enabled them to become a family.”
They are also a part of our Legion family.
“I think it is important to support our veterans everywhere, and that includes our prisons,” said Patterson. “Yes, these men went down the wrong path, and they are working to correct the course that they are on, but we can’t forget that they are still veterans and Legionnaires.”
Even though Steve Wilson has been released from the New Castle Correctional Facility, he is still a member of Post 830 and continues to assist with the HUMV program. He is currently working to promote the work of the post through exhibitions and events and by soliciting special donations.
If you would like to view the work of Legion Post 830 and the HUMV program, their model of the USS Indiana BB-1 has recently been accepted by the Indiana War Memorial as a permanent display at the museum.
If you would like to support Post 380, please contact your local post. They are accepting donations of both money and approved craft supplies.
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