Most people think of South Dakota as a land of ranchers and horses, of endless prairies and the beautiful Black Hills, of buffalo and Indian tribes, of the Badlands and Crazy Horse Mountain. For those of us blessed to live, work and raise our families here in the Black Hills, it is all of these and much more, truly the term “the land of the free and home of the brave” are among the best words that describe “The Mt. Rushmore State”.
As a retired military aviator and board member of the Black Hills War Monument Association, I have had the opportunity to research the rich and long military history and legacy of duty, honor and country that is an integral part of the history of the Black Hills. From the first World War, through the decades of conflicts in Europe, Asia, the Persian Gulf, etc. military members from the Black Hills have done their part to keep American free.
During WWII, Rapid City Air Base (today Ellsworth AFB) trained B17/B26 bomber crews who helped defeat Japan and Germany with relentless bombing missions over Tokyo and Berlin.
In fact, Capt. Don Smith from Belle Fourche, SD, piloted the #15 aircraft (known as “TNT”), during the Doolittle Raid. The flight took off from the deck of the USS Hornet, and gave us hope in the dark days after Pearl Harbor. Over 2000 pilots for USAAC bombers where trained in Spearfish SD at Clyde Ice Field, supplying desperately needed airmen to turn the tide against the Axis powers.
Black Hills POWs were on the Bataan Death March, in Japanese and German POW camps, on Japanese Hell Ships, and in prison camps in North Korea and Vietnam. Black Hills military members died at Pearl Harbor aboard the USS Arizona, at the bloody battles at Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Okinawa and Iwo Jima; our sailors died at the Battle of Midway and the Coral Sea and died delivering atomic bomb parts to the aircrews that bombed Hiroshima (aboard the USS Indianapolis); our local heroes died at Chosin Reservoir in Korea, at the battles of Hue and Khe Sanh in Vietnam, at Fallujah and Baghdad in the War on Terror.
Ellsworth AFB in nearby Box Elder, SD was instrumental to our nation’s war effort during the Korean War (1950-53), the Cold War (1946-1991), the Vietnam War (1964-1975) and the Global War on Terror (2001-present). Formerly known as Rapid City Air Base, during WWII our airmen learned to fly B17 and B29 bombers; then in the 1950s and 1960/70/80s flew RB36 and B52 bombers. Over the past 40 years Ellsworth has been home to the premier AF bomber, the B-1B, and now the base awaits the arrival of the B21, expected in the next 3-5 years. In addition, the 44th Strategic Missile Wing operated ICBM silo sites that played an integral part of the nuclear triad that deterred Soviet aggression and ultimately defeated communism during the Cold War.
Camp Rapid in Rapid City, is home training base for the SDNG, saw action in World War I as the 147th Field Artillery Battalion. In World War II, the 109th and 132nd Engineer Battalions were among the first US units to see action in the war against Germany. Since then, National Guard units have deployed countless times during wartime in support of national war efforts.
Taps is our final farewell to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation.
With this military legacy and history in mind, in 2022 the Black Hills War Monument Association (BHWMA) was formed as a non-profit group by several retired military veterans. Our vision was to erect a war monument that listed the names of ALL Black Hills military who died in service to the nation from World War I to the present, a period of over 100 years. Their goal was to ensure our citizens NEVER FORGET the sacrifices and selfless service of hundreds of Black Hills military members who went off to war and never came home.
Today, the Black Hills War Monument nears completion, with six granite walls listing the names of almost 700 fallen military from WW I, WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Global War on Terror, and all POW/MIAs from each of those conflicts. In addition to the six walls, the six military service flags fly proudly, three on either side of a 40ft US flagpole, complete with SD state flag and the POW/MIA flag.
The War Monument is located in Memorial Park, near downtown Rapid City and the Civic Center, at the intersection of Omaha St and 6th St. It is easily accessible and the walls have night lighting for viewing 24 hours per day. For more information, see www.bhwma.org. A visitor can scroll down on the website to Walls of Honor, and view the name of each fallen member, with links that show the military history/legacy of all 694 names on the granite walls.
On May 29, 2023, the official dedication of the War Monument will take place, honoring our war dead. A Color Guard will post the colors, the national anthem will be sung, along with Taps, and a three volley salute with rifles in honor of the fallen. Many Gold Star families will be present to speak on behalf of the fallen.
--For more information contact the BHWMA by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 605-209-6283.