A small group of veterans stood around a bonfire. They clutched strips of what was once an American flag, but has since been taken down and decommissioned. The men threw the strips into the flames, while simultaneously honoring fallen friends.

It was a type of ceremony done many times before with the Warrior Bonfire Program, an organization that brings veterans together to take part in recreational activities. On Saturday night at Hot Lake Springs Resort, though, the ceremony was the first of many to take place in Union County — when the resort is transformed into a center to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Veterans Restorative Care Center will take over Hot Lake Springs Resort once the money is raised. The center will offer naturopathic medicine to veterans through the National University of Natural Medicine, and also give them an opportunity to come together with their former comrades in arms.

Dan Fordice III founded the Warrior Bonfire Program and discovered it wasn’t the hunting, fishing and hiking activities that were as important as what happened around the fire.

Speaking of the healing that is at the heart of the WBP, Fordice said, “There’s more to this than meets the eye. This is building together. We just need to get them together, and they’ll take care of the rest.”

Fordice said some of the soldiers who have come through the WBP have talked about wanting to kill themselves. This program was created to offer the vets something to give them hope.

“You can’t un-see what you’ve already seen,” he said. “You can’t un-know what you’ve already known. They served our country. I see the limbs missing, their wounds and the medications they’re taking that turn them into zombies. Let’s take responsibility for what we’ve asked them to do.”

Fordice envisions some of the vets visiting the care center at Hot Lake for three to four weeks at a time. While many details are still in the works, the goal is to bring the vets in so they can heal together.

“We want to help them move on with their lives,” said Mike Foss, president of the WBP.

This first-of-its-kind veterans program has just launched a capital campaign to raise money to purchase the buildings and its property, as well as what it will take to construct the necessary additions to the hotel for the veterans. It’ll cost approximately $9 million to get the center up and running.

There’s a new website set up, said Sara Keyes, director of development for VRCC. It has information about how to donate to the program.

“Twenty-two veterans kill themselves every day,” Keyes said. “If everyone could donate $22, what would that accomplish? How about $22 per month?”

Keyes said she’s working to contact the local VFW groups to get them involved with this project.

“It’s very grassroots,” she said. “But that’s how we’re going to raise millions. I believe we’re going to make history with this building.”

To find out more about this program and to donate, go to www.veteransrcc.org.

Contact Cherise Kaechele at 541-786-4234 or ckaechele@lagrandeobserver.com. Follow Cherise on Twitter
@lgoKaechele.

Editor's Note: The story had originally misstated one of the programs responsible for VRCC. The Warrior Bonfire Program will be one of the leads in getting this new program to Hot Lake Springs.

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