At the age of 15, Tomas M. War Cloud Bandaries joined the French Foreign Legion. It was something he read about in magazines. After saving money from his paper route and shoe shining business, he bought airfare and forged documents listing his age as 19.
“You could sign up for the legion between the ages of 15 to 40, but in order to get out of the country on a plane I had to be 18,” he said.
After completing five years in the French Foreign Legion, he joined the Army National Guard. “I didn’t care too much for the drill weekends, so I applied for the draft,” Bandaries stated. He was immediately transferred to the Marine Corps and worked on the electronic systems in aircraft.
At the VA
In 1968, Bandaries showed up for his first appointment at the Tucson VA.
“I started coming here when there were only two buildings, the main building and the north wing,” he said. “Now, this place is like a small city. The buildings are beautiful, and all of the architecture is nice.”
For Bandaries, the campus may have changed over the years, but the commitment to provide the best health care to Veterans has not.
“Coming here for over 48 years, I’ve never had a bad experience, not one.”
He credits VA health care for keeping him healthy, which has enabled him to lead an accomplished life. He is a believer in giving back to his community through art and music, specifically Native American music. Bandaris started playing flute at nine years old and his music has orbited the Earth.
“John Herrington, the first Native American Astronaut on Space Shuttle Mission 113, took one of my CDs and played it,” said Bandaries. “It went 300 miles up and orbited the Earth at 17,850 miles per hour for 13 days. I don’t think anyone else has ever had a galactic concert.”
He encourages Native American Veterans to come to the VA for care.
“In between my various treatments, I got to serve the community,” said Bandaires. “I couldn’t have climbed scaffolding to do my murals without the shoulder and leg work done by VA.”
During his last stay at the Tucson VA, Bandaries spent a lot of time in the craft room at the Community Living Center. He feels it is an important place where Veterans can heal.
“It takes your mind off of what is going with you medically,” he said. “It’s a very valuable addition to the care plan here.”
To this day he still creates art and plays music. One day, he would like to come back as a volunteer.
“When something is done for me, I figure out a way to pay it forward,” said Bandaries.
Luke Johnson is an assistant public affairs officer at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System