Injured vets take part in Warrior Transition Unit hand skills workshops

Terry Cadenbach, shot three times while fighting in Vietnam and shot down in a helicopter, had long wanted to work with veterans.

After retiring from AT&T in St. Louis, where he worked as a procurement manager, and moving to Phelps County, where his family's roots are, Cadenbach began wondering how he could get onto Fort Leonard Wood and work with "wounded warriors." After all, he had been one himself.

"There were lots of things I could do with them," Cadenbach said. "I would have brought them out to my farm to go four-wheeling or riding horses." He has been a Civil War re-enactor for 26 years, so he could have worked with the vets on historical interests.

Cadenbach started calling, writing, and emailing offices on the post.

"I started a year and half ago, but I couldn't get anyone to call me back," he said.

Enter Don Wilson, the great-grandson of Bushwhacker Bill Wilson, who last summer was asked by Rolla artists Dan Woodward to dress up like his famous (or infamous) ancestor and pose for pictures that Woodward would use to help him paint Civil War scenes for his traveling art exhibit.

Wilson agreed and began making some calls to get help in finding the right kind of clothing that would depict the Bushwhacker accurately. He worked with local re-enactors John Petersen and Garret Gabel, and he was introduced to Cadenbach.

For Wilson, this background work led to a new avocation in re-enacting that has continued after they all met at Gourd Creek Cave where Woodward snapped many pictures for use as inspiration for paintings.

What has also continued is a friendship with Cadenbach, and when Wilson found out that Cadenbach wanted to work with veterans on post, he went to work to help.

"He was very good to me," Wilson said of Cadenbach. "He helped me a lot, so when I found out he wanted to teach wounded warriors and hadn't been able to get anyone to talk to him, I knew I could help him."

Wilson, a longtime concrete contractor in Rolla with friends in state government, made a trip to Jefferson City to a friend - a friend who just happened to be from Pulaski County with a solid network of friends at Fort Leonard Wood.

And that friend was going to have a meeting with a very high official on post the next day.

"I gave him Terry's business card and asked him to help get Terry involved," Wilson said, grinning. "Within a week Terry was teaching leatherwork at the fort."

Cadenbach explained that Fort Leonard Wood officials learned that his set of skills included decades of leatherwork, and they asked him to teach a class once a week at the Soldier and Family Assistance Center.

"I found out the Army has what they call a Warrior Transition Unit," Cadenbach said. "I'd been trying to contact the Wounded Warrior Program." That had led him down the wrong path, which was why his calls were not returned. The Wounded Warrior Program raises money that is primarily sent East to the Walter Reed Army Hospital to help hospitalized veterans and their families during recovering.

Here on the post, a different effort, the Warrior Transition Unit, works to help soldiers who have been hurt, whether in combat or on the job, with healing of mind, body and spirit.

"It's a regular military unit," Cadenbach said. "It falls under the auspices of the hospital."

The Soldier and Family Assistance Center is just one part of the Warrior Transition Unit's support program, and the hand skills workshops, one of which is Cadenbach's leatherworking class, is just one part of the program offered at the center.

Other hand skills workshops include a painting class taught by a Rolla couple and a woodcarving class taught by a former member of the Warrior Transition Unit.

Cadenbach got started in leatherworking when he bought a horse in 1975 and got an old saddle that needed repair. He fixed it, and that started a lifelong love of crafting saddles, tack, belts, bags and holsters.

It has worked hand-in-hand with his interest in Civil War re-enacting. He does business as Circle C Leather to offer reproduction military and civilian uniforms, clothing, leather goods and horse equipment for the period of 1830-1900, and is the official supplier of these goods to the National Park Service.

He has worked with the National Park Service on historical documentaries, recently finishing one about the life of Ulysses S. Grant.

"I've been in several movies," he said, including "Ride With the Devil," a movie about Missouri bushwhackers starring Toby Maguire. Back in the Army, he met John Wayne who was filming "The Green Berets" and wanted to meet real members of the Special Forces.

Cadenbach also is heavily involved with Civil War re-enacting. He has been president of the Missouri Civil War Re-enactors Association five times. He directs the Pilot Knob re-enactment every three years, and travels to several other re-enactments.

"It's in my blood," he said.

He still finds time to work on leather goods.

"I'm usually out in the workshop every day," he said.

That makes him a particularly valuable mentor for the men and women at the hand skills workshops.

Sgt. James Piland, injured on the job in Kuwait, is one student who plans to stick with leatherworking seriously.

"I went out and bought my own tools and a lot of leather," Sgt. Piland said, proudly holding aloft a bridle he had recently finished.

Sgt. Piland joined the Army in 2000 after serving 11 years in the Navy. He is nearing a medical discharge after 22 years of military service. Although he's still in the Warrior Transition Unit, he lives near Buffalo.

"I set all my medical appointments on the same day so I can come up here and work, too," he said.

Sgt. Piland donated a holster he made under the direction of Cadenbach to the White Tails Unlimited Association at Sedalia for a fundraising auction.

"They sold it for $115," he said.

Cadenbach said Sgt. Piland and some other students have indicated a desire to continue with the leather crafting skills they learn after they leave the Army. That's an indication of the value of the hand skills workshops.

Ironically, Cadenbach learned after he started volunteering for the class that there is no financial support.

"They have these classes taught by volunteers, but no one has a budget for supplies," he said. "The instructors pitch in and the students also pay for materials out of their own pockets."

Cadenbach said he is not allowed to solicit donations, but he has mentioned to friends that he is teaching the class and has spent $900 of his own money to make sure the students have the supplies they need.

Cadenbach has good friends who offer to help. The tannery he does business with has donated much leather for class projects. Leather guild members have donated about $800 worth of tools.

Enter Don Wilson again.

Wilson has taken the original book, “Bushwhacker” by George Clinton Arthur, originally published in 1938, written a preface about his family, including pictures, and published it under the title “Bushwhacker Bill Wilson Rides Again.”

When Wilson learned Cadenbach was spending his own money to provide supplies for the class, he offered to pitch in and help.

"I'm selling the book for $15, and I'm giving $5 from each book sale to go toward this program," Wilson said.

Wilson and Cadenbach want the money raised to go to support all the hand skills workshops, not just the leather working class.

Wilson has talked to accountant Mollie Malone who has agreed to donate her services to help in setting up a 501(c)3 organization to accept the donations from the book sales, as well as other donations from the community.

A bank account for "Warrior Transition Unit Hand Skills Workshops" has been set up at Central Federal Savings and Loan Association, and donations are being accepted.

A board consisting of Mayor Bill Jenks III, Bill Stoltz, president of Central Federal Savings and Loan Association, Matt Sanders, owner of Matt's Steakhouse, and Jimmy Brown, owner of the St. James Flag Co., will oversee the payments from that account to the hand skills workshops.

Wilson also said he has talked to local VFW posts who are supportive of this and will handle sales of the book. Already the Rolla VFW has books for sale, and other area VFW posts are considering joining the cause. Wilson said books sold at Larry Bowen's The Reader's Corner will also result in a $5 donation to the account.

"I think it's a good cause," Wilson said.

Cadenbach is hopeful that the organization Wilson is setting up with the help of Malone and the board will be a long-term support group with the help of the community. It will fill a void.

"The Army encourages soldiers to go to these classes, but they won't pay for it," Cadenbach said. "This will help."

Cadenbach takes his tools and leather to the Soldier and Family Assistance Center every Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. He never knows how many students will show up throughout the day.

He recalls  when he was discharged from the Army, injured, during the Vietnam War, “They just sent me home," he said. "Now they've got this whole program to help the soldiers."

He's just happy to be of service.

"I wanted to do something down here," he said. "It's therapy for me in a way."