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86-year-old Vietnam veteran spearheads bar makeover, honors fallen heroes

“This is like family up here at Big Al’s.”
Posted at 7:02 PM, Nov 07, 2023
  • Clayton "Cactus" Schaner served two tours in Vietnam with the U.S. Army, and started a memorial outside the Council Bluffs Bar he frequents — Big Al's.
  • “I was just like, ‘Oh, it’s Cactus, he isn’t going to do it.’ Then he showed up with a couple guys and started digging. So, then we got on it.”
  • All 30 Pottawattamie County soldiers who lost their lives in Vietnam are now honored, including three from the family that owns the bar.

BROADCAST TRANSCRIPT:

Clayton Schaner, who is known by the nickname Cactus, remembers his service fondly, “20 years, 7 months, 18 days. Every day was a payday, every meal was a banquet,” said Cactus proudly.

Many of those memories coming from his time in Vietnam.

“I had two tours in Vietnam. I was a platoon sergeant most of the time.”

He showed 3 News Now’s Zach Williamson some of the photos from his time there.

“The lake behind our company area — we called it the two-step lake. If you go down near that lake, you got two steps and a snake’s got you,” he laughed. “This picture here is the biggest bathtub I could find!”

After his service, he worked as a trucker – not retiring until three days before his 80th birthday!

“He’s 86 years old, and he’s still one of the orneriest guys around,” said Allen Robinson with a smile.

Robinson would know.

Cactus has been a regular at his bar in Council Bluffs, Big Al’s, for the last decade or so.

Heck – they even celebrated his 85th birthday with free drinks.

“We made little tokens with his picture on them so he could give them away to his family and friends.”

Cactus added, “This is like family up here at Big Al’s.”

Cactus recently decided he wanted to do something at the bar to honor Vietnam veterans – including those who never returned home.

Something Allen and his sisters, Christie and Anita, and their real family know all too well.

“All three passed in Vietnam. Hit my grandma real hard,” Allen shared with his sisters by his side.

“You know, you got a family with three uncles killed in Vietnam — I don’t know, just a little give back,” said Cactus.

He wanted to give back by creating a memorial outside the bar.

Allen and Christie, who both co-own the bar together, liked the idea but didn’t expect it to come to fruition.

“I was just like, ‘Oh, it’s Cactus, he isn’t going to do it.’ Then he showed up with a couple guys and started digging,” Allen recalls. “So, then we got on it.”

“We’re getting her done up here in the Westend (of Council Bluffs),” Cactus told Zach.

“As a west ender, I love that baby!” Zach replied.

Cactus paid to lay the bricks and create the foundation outside the bar.

That’s when Allen and Christie fully bought in.

Buying a flagpole and then reaching out to Anita, coined as the creative sibling, to put her touch on it.

“So of course, when he asked me to help I was all in, but I’m a little extra, so a plaque wasn’t going to do it,” said Anita.

Allen researched the names of every Pottawattamie County veteran who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam.

All 30 of those heroes’ names placed on lanterns by Anita to stand at the memorial.

The additions only continued. Cactus bought a rock for Anita to paint.

“The day she was painting the rock, he stops right in the middle of 2nd Ave in his car, and goes, ‘Hey, you’re doing a good job.’”

Everyone laughed.

“Honking at me, stopping traffic in the middle of 2nd Ave., no big deal,” Anita added.

They are also honoring veterans who are still with us. Every veteran who visits Big Al's can find their name on the window next to the memorial.

“Even if they’ve just been here once and they want their name up here we will put anybody’s name on there,” said Christie.

The reviews are in:

“A lot of comments on it, yeah, a lot of favorable comments,” said Cactus. “It just makes the whole area look nicer than it was.”

“They love it, but honestly, it’s not complete. I think we will keep adding to it,” said Allen.

While the area looks nicer now it’s about so much more.

It’s about honoring and remembering our American heroes.

And supporting a Vietnam veteran who is one of their own.

“That whole thing out there was his idea,” said Christie. “We just all came together and got it going.”

Because that’s what families do.

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