DEARBORN – The Dearborn Allied War Veterans Council has named U.S. Air Force veteran Dennis Scanland as the city’s 2018 Veteran of the Year.
Scanland will receive this recognition at the city’s annual Veterans Day ceremony at 11 a.m. Nov. 11 at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center, 15801 Michigan Ave.
The veterans of the year are nominated by their veteran peers and then selected by a committee of past recipients. The honorees are chosen based on how they have helped serve others, especially veterans, in the Dearborn community and beyond. Other traits such as personal qualities of honor, leadership, compassion and commitment are also taken into account.
For Scanland, his life has been grounded on a foundation of service, compassion and empathy.
The 70-year-old Dearborn resident has been an active member in Dearborn’s veteran community for nearly 20 years. Countless veterans have found comfort in Scanland’s frequent cards and visits to area nursing homes, hospitals and households. He has also helped veterans who died without resources or family members to find their final resting places.
Despite Scanland saying he feels “undeserving” of the nomination, it’s for these reasons he has been named the 2018 veteran of the year.
“There are other guys that have done more than I have,” Scanland said. “I am so thankful for all those who have nominated me. I told the guys I don’t deserve it, but they said I can’t turn it down. But I am so appreciative for them and honored.”
Scanland grew up in the eastside neighborhoods of Detroit, graduating from Finney High School in 1965. He was prepared to begin a career in the funeral home business, where he had worked as a teen. However, a career would have to wait.
In 1966, Scanland enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. Like so many other Americans, Scanland found himself training to contribute to the war effort in Vietnam.
“I decided it was the right thing for me to do — a good thing to do. So, I enlisted,” he said.
He was first stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and was later transferred to Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina.
Scanland was assigned the duty of Fabric Parachute Rigger. As a fabric man, his responsibility was to repair the ailerons on C-47 Skytrains.
“I’d write my dad and tell him, ‘I’m helping win the war sitting behind a sewing machine,’” Scanland said.
While visiting his family in Detroit on leave, Scanland received a surprise phone call from his commanding officer. Scanland was to return to the base a week early because of an immediate assignment pending overseas.
When he arrived, Scanland was met by two other fabric men of the same grade and rank.
“There are three sets of orders where you’re needed — one in Greenland, one in England and one in Vietnam. You’re going to draw straws on who goes where,” Scanland said his commander told the three.
The first drew Greenland. The second drew Vietnam. Scanland drew England.
“I was off to meet the Queen,” Scanland joked. “But I felt for the guy going to Vietnam. I never heard whatever happened with him or the other guy.”
In England, Scanland continued his work as a fabric man.
“That year went by fast because there was always something to do,” he said.
He befriended an Irish chaplain from the Diocese of New York. The chaplain served as a mentor for the young Scanland, and Scanland began assisting the chaplain as permitted by his commanding officer.
Scanland was later transferred to Germany and the chaplain followed to continue their support work for soldiers returning from combat in Vietnam.
Scanland was honorably discharged from the Air Force in November 1970 as an Airman 3rd Class.
Looking back on his time in the Air Force, Scanland knows he did his part to support those who were in the direct line of action, he said.
“Everything we did, we did it knowing it was helping,” he said. “I was very fortunate.”
Scanland thought about re-enlisting in the service. “I really wish I did,” he said.
Instead, he opted to return home and start his life. Still just a young man, Scanland set out to find work and start a family. He got a job as a banker in Detroit, where he met his future wife, JoAnn.
The two married in 1972. They had three children Jennifer, Jerard and Jeanne.
Veterans Member Organizations
In the years following his discharge, Scanland joined veterans groups in the Dearborn area. However, he was not an active member until 2001.
The inspiration came at the city of Dearborn’s Memorial Day Parade, Scanland said. The magnitude of the procession and the reverence shown moved him to becoming a part of Dearborn’s veterans’ community, he said.
“I was overwhelmed. I cried. I was so impressed,” he said about the parade. “There were thousands of people, but all you could hear were the hooves of the horses against the pavement and the wheels turning. You could drop a dime out there and hear it. Everyone was that still, and reverent and patriotic.”
From that time, Scanland has been an active member for the American Legion Post 364 and the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 267. He has also served as president of the Dearborn Exchange Club and a member of the Dearborn Centurion Club.
Scanland returned to working in the funeral home business, just like he had as a youth. He has been an assistant funeral home director at Querfeld Funeral Home in Dearborn for the past 16 years.
A religious man, Scanland is a parishioner at St. Sebastian Catholic Church in Dearborn Heights and a frequent visitor at masses at Sacred Heart Parish in Dearborn. Because of this, Scanland was appointed chaplain of Post 364 – just as he assisted his chaplain friend during his years in the military.
As chaplain, Scanland sends cards to sick Legion and VVA members and to the families of members who have died. He visits regularly with lonely, sick and grieving members.
“Their faces just light up,” Scanland said. “I’m always happy to talk to as many veterans I can find.”
Scanland’s most important work, however, is ensuring unclaimed veterans make it to their final resting places and families of veterans who can’t afford proper burials receive the funds they need.
With the help of others, Scanland uses his connections at Querfeld and other funeral homes, charity groups, churches and more to secure funds and alternative methods to help military families bury their loved veterans.
He has played an important role in helping get the remains of more than 30 unclaimed veterans out of funeral homes and taken to their final resting place at Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly.
“Anyone who has served our country doesn’t belong in some unmarked grave, or in some funeral home on a shelf,” Scanland said. “It’s important we don’t forget about these people.”
Dearborn resident Peter Borella, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2107, nominated Scanland.
“He goes above and beyond for veterans constantly,” Borella said. “That’s one of the main reasons he’s so deserving and he’s done more far-reaching things beyond just funeral services. He’s certainly done a whole lot for veterans in the city of Dearborn and the tri-county area.”
Despite multiple health-related issues, Scanland said he plans on enjoying time with his four grandchildren and continuing his work for Dearborn veterans for the years to come.
“Unless I take the 6-foot dive, I’ll keep going,” he said with a smile.