Share Your Story


As part of constructing the South Dakota World War II Memorial, we want to preserve the stories of South Dakotans during that period. Please share with us a story of your experience during that time.


Captain Donald Smith

“The catastrophe of Pearl Harbor was followed by five months of further defeats as America surrendered one island fortress after another.  In the atmosphere of unrelieved gloom that followed, Roosevelt and his military leaders decided to boost morale by undertaking a daring offensive action against the Japanese home islands.

On April 18, 1942, the aircraft carrier Hornet having been spotted by Japanese fishing boats about 650 miles east of Japan was forced to prematurely launch Lt. Colonel James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle and his sixteen B-25 bombers against their targets in the cities of Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, Osaka, and Nagoya.

No American force had ever yet bombed an enemy capital city.  No one was even certain that a B-25 bomber could be flown off the deck of an aircraft carrier.  There was no easy way home.  Since the B-25s could not be landed back on the Hornet, Doolittle’s men would have to fly on into China, where they were to deliver the planes to American units then being formed.  But the early launch forced fifteen crews to bail out or ditch their aircraft.  One crew landed in Russia.  What was supposed to be merely “thirty seconds over Tokyo” became an odyssey of escape that for some crew members lasted fourteen months and cost the lives of thousands of Chinese patriots. “ 

Donald Smith was born in Oldham, SD.  He was adopted as a child and was raised in Belle Fourche, SD.  He attended SDSU where he played three years of varsity football and was named All-Star Conference Center in his senior year.  After graduating he enlisted into the U.S. Army Air Corps and started flying.

Captain Donald Smith was in charge of Crew #15, the 13th plane to take off, in the Doolittle Raid.  His crew from the 89th Reconnaissance Squadron consisted of: Lt. Griffith P. Williams, Lt. Howard A. Sessler, Sgt. Edward J. Saylor, and Lt. Dr. Thomas R. White.  Smith landed his plane off the China coast allowing his crew time enough to escape with no injuries. 

Captain was killed in a crash in the British Isles on November 12, 1942 while serving his country.

Submitted 4/18/01 by the Belle Fourche Chamber of Commerce


Merle Knuth

Merle enlisted in the Air Force in October 1943 at the Post Office in Sioux Falls.  The Air Force did not have room for him and many others until February 1944.  He left Estelline on February 22, 1944.  He completed basic training in Texas and then went to a Tech School in Madison, Wisconsin at Truex Field.  He spent time at Chanate Air Base in Rantoul, IL.  He was finally assigned to a flight crew at Baton Roughe AAFB to test fly new B-29s.   He was in radar and checked all the radar equipment.  He separated from the service at Camp Beale AAB on May 7, 1946 as a Corporal.

Submitted by himself on 4/2/01

Clarence Siebrecht

Clarence was killed in action in Luzon, Pacific Islands in 1945.

Submitted on 4/24/01


Lee Highland

Lee was an infantry rifleman who landed at Normandy and fought his way into Germany.  He was wounded in the process.

Submitted by his niece, 4/19/01

Herbert Heidepriem

Herbert served in the Battle of the Bulge and received the Purple Heart for injuries he sustained.

Submitted by his family, 4/12/01

Art Beck

Art served in the Seventh Division of the 17th Infantry, Third Battalion of M Company.  He was a staff sergeant in the machine gun squad.

Submitted by himself, 4/27/01

Robert E. Iverson

Robert spent nearly four years in England .  He was in the first class of 36 to take radar training.  He was sent to England to a RAF base for five and a half months and then to a branch off of the College of Royal Arts and Science in London.  He was then assigned to the 94th Bomb group at Bury, St. Edmunds, England.

Submitted by himself, 4/30/01

David L. Dreyer

David served in Europe during World War II.  He also went to Korea twice during the Korean War.

Submitted on 4/30/01

George W. Dreyer

George spent his time in the Medics (six years) in the Chinese-Burma area.

Submitted 4/30/01

Chief Dave Bald EagleLegacy of honor

Article by Bev Pechan, printed in Rapid City Journal, November 9, 2000

Photos by Don Polovich, Rapid City Journal Staff

Chief Dave Bald Eagle has much to be proud of in his 83 years. He's appeared in movies with the likes of Errol Flynn and has danced with Marilyn Monroe. He once traveled with Casey Tibbs’ Wild West Show and is one of the best-known participants each year at the annual Days of '76 Parade in Deadwood. Perhaps his proudest accomplishment, however, is having served his country in the Unites States Army.

WWII hero: American Indians did their part

American Indians have fought hard for freedom every time the United States has gone to war.

That's what Chief Dave Bald Eagle, 83, of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe talked about this week as he represented his and other tribes at an observance of American Indian Heritage Month at Kaiserslaughtern Military Community near Frankfurt, Germany.

For Bald Eagle, the trip to Germany was one of joy and sadness. He was honored to commend his people and their commitment to America in war and peace, and he would see his daughter, Army Maj. Ines Bald Eagle White, for the first time in a long while. But the trip also would bring back memories of war: seeing his buddies being cut to pieces and getting shot himself.

"There were a lot of heroes -- they attacked a lot of places -- skirmishes, breakthroughs. There are a lot of Indian stories. Their history has never been told," Bald Eagle said in an interview before leaving for Germany.

As a young man who thought he'd look good in a uniform, Bald Eagle convinced his father to let him enlist in the Army. He recalled that his family took him to Fort Meade by wagon and camped nearby while he signed up with the Fourth U. S. Cavalry. That was in 1939, and a horse with an odd-looking saddle was assigned to him. When the cavalry became mechanized in 1941, Bald Eagle was transferred to the infantry at Fort Snelling, MN.

"I was just getting discharged when the war started," he said. "My C. O. asked if I'd re-enlist. ... I got to keep my rank (sergeant); I got a 60-day furlough and went into the 82nd Airborne." He served for six years and seven months.

The 82nd Airborne, a celebrated unit of the U. S. Army, was first called the "All-American Division." From its beginnings in 1917, it was well known. Sgt. Alvin C. York belonged to the division during World War I. Army Reserve Col. Harry S. Truman was one of the 11,000 organized reservists waiting to be called up in 1942, but was considered too old and, instead, became vice president and, later, president.

In April 1943, paratroopers sporting jaunty maroon berets headed for North Africa with Maj. General Matthew Ridgeway to pierce the flank of the Third Reich. The first missions of this elite force were parachute and glider assaults into Sicily and Salerno, Italy.

In January 1944, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment was temporarily dispatched from the 82nd to lead the invasion at Anzio, Italy. Sergeant Bald Eagle jumped with his companions into the firestorm. The men fought so fiercely that an entry into a German officer's captured diary called them the "Devils in Baggy Pants."

Dave Bald Eagle leads the 78th annual Days of ’76 parade this past August through downtown Deadwood
Dave Bald Eagle leads the 78th annual Days of ’76 parade this past August through downtown Deadwood. Bald Eagle has ridden in the parade for 72 years.

On D-Day -- June 6, 1944 -- the largest airborne assault in history took place as hundreds of transport planes and gliders made their way to the beaches at Normandy. The paratroopers of the 82nd's three infantry regiments, including Bald Eagle, made the jump. During 33 days of combat without relief or replacements, 5,245 paratroopers were killed, wounded or missing in action. Bald Eagle was one of the wounded. The Army's official report on the "Devils in the Baggy Pants" said: "Every mission accomplished. No ground gained was ever relinquished."

In the interview before leaving for Germany, he noted some American Indian contributions to military efforts: "The Army learned (many) battle tactics from the Indian people -- camouflage, sneak attacks -- they're still using today."

Indian codetalkers were a vital weapon against the enemy because foreign intelligence couldn't decipher the languages. While the Navajo dialect is most often associated with the codetalkers of World War I and II, six Indian nations were represented in the first war, and 13 nations and their languages were used in World War II.

"Lakota people, Dakota, Nakota, three types of dialects -- they still understand each other," Bald Eagle, who was a codetalker, said.

"We'd talk and laugh like we were telling each other jokes," he said, "but we were passing along information."

Several books have been written about the American Indian codetalkers, and a major movie is in the works.

At Kaiserslaughtern, Bald Eagle and his wife, Josee, a former actress and a native of Belgium, were welcomed by their daughter, who was commander of the Army's Second Tank Battalion during the war in Bosnia and is currently a field officer. Prior to her return to Germany, she taught military science in Omaha for the armed forces. Her husband, Chris, is from Vermillion. Two of Bald Eagle's other children -- Remi and Kili Bald Eagle -- have joined the 82nd Airborne and are stationed at Fort Bragg, NC.

Chief Bald Eagle comes by his military past through his own heritage. His grandfather, Chief White Bull, was an ally of Sitting Bull and led one of the attacks at Little Big Horn. White Bull told the stories to his grandson over the years, but never wrote them down because, Bald Eagle said, "Some things had no (comparable) words in the Indian language."

"My grandfather was my school room," he said. "I didn't talk English or go to school until I was 12." Chief White Bull died in 1934.

Today, the Bald Eagles ranch and raise horses on the Cheyenne River Reservation. They are restoring a 100-year-old log house on the nearby Timber Creek Ranch owned by Rapid City attorney Louis Freiberg. This spring, there will be a Chief Bald Eagle Campground on a corner of the ranch near the original camp of Chief Big Foot, who was killed at Wounded Knee in 1890. Guests will stay in tepees, learn Indian traditions and tour historic areas.

Bald Eagle has been part of this area's history for most of his life. He has ridden in Days of '76 parades in Deadwood for 72 years and has led the parade 49 years. In 1958, he toured with Casey Tibbs' Wild West Show at the World's Fair in Brussels, where Tibbs introduced him to Josee. And he has appeared in 17 movies, including "Flaming Arrow" with Errol Flynn and "River of No Return" with Marilyn Monroe.

"I even danced with her," he chuckled.

Being the U.S. ambassador for his people and the guest speaker at Kaiserslaughtern's tribute to American Indians who served in the armed forces is a great personal reward for him, he said.

"I'm going to put tribal flags on the car," he said of the limousine that was to pick him up at the airport. "I'll be wearing street clothes, but I'll have my war bonnet and chief outfit (along)."

Submitted 6/01/01

Gordon O. Hayes

Gordon was the recipient of the Silver Star, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Combat Infantry badge, ETO Ribbon with four campaign stars, Presidential Citation and numerous other medals.  He received a 160% service connected disability.

Submitted 5/1/01

Monroe B. Erickson

Monroe is a native of Menno, SD.  He served in military service from 1941-1945 with 252nd Field Artillery Battalion of the 102nd Infantry Division in the European Theatre.  He assisted with air observations doing hedgehopping with Piper Cubs.  He received two Battle Stars and a Citation for Meritorious Service against the enemy during the Battle of the Bulge, Ruhr and Rhine.   His specialty was as an airplane mechanic.  He was also a witness to the Holocaust atrocities. 

Submitted by his wife,  5/2/01

Dan Teeters

Dan lost his life when a Japanese plane flew into his plane in the Taipan area of the South Pacific.  He was a 2nd Lieutenant on a B24.

Submitted on 5/11/01

Wayne Gladstone

Wayne flew for both the RAF and the U.S. Army Air Corps in Europe.  He is a native of Lemmon, SD and currently a practicing attorney in Washington state.

Submitted on 5/11/01

Ralph A. Carlsen

Ralph flew in Europe during the war.

Submitted by his brother, 5/11/01

Theodore Otto Hanson

Theodore was a Second Lieutenant in the Army Infantry.  He was killed in Germany on July 15, 1944

Submitted by his wife, 5-11-01

Daryl Stearns

Daryl was inducted into the service on August 29, 1944 and served until August, 1946 as a Staff Sergeant.  He served his country from one end of Italy to the other.  He was a member of the 109th Combat Engineers 34th Division and also the 313th Combat Engineers 88th Division. 

Submitted by his son and daughter-in-law, 5/16/01


The air is cool; the fiery dawn of a new day starts to
Break the far horizon.  The wild chirp of the fowls echoes
Through a green carpet laid out to border long rows of
White marble crosses.

All at once the blare of a lone bugler
Drowns out the cries of the wilds.
The flag is being raised; the blood spilt
Upon the grass of the free t'was sacrificed
Not in vain, not in boastful circles,
But in glory and honor!


There comes upon the land      A new dawn day;
A freshness that cannot be marred
By idol, careless say--

A day of honor and glory,
A day of sharing and give,
A day to be remembered
For what our young boys did!

The women of America began to lay the wreaths and flowers
Upon the marble tombstones.  The results of hard work and
Sacrifices have made many a mother weep uncontrollably upon
Their young son's grave.  It was just too much for them to bear
Upon seeing their precious boys lying so still in that cold
Silent state of not answering back.

Do not forget us, oh, God,
Thou faithful servants passed;
We died not in shame
But in Thy holy tasks--

The eagle still flies high
Over the land that you set free,
With all our strength and courage
We died to honor Thee!

From small, humble villages
To large, dwelling towns
You are but our Lord;

In that white-marked landscape
Where many a young man lies
To wait for God to come
And go where HE RESIDES!!!

You'll never let us down

If we hold Your truths
And God-like righteous ways,
The countries of Thine Earth
Shall respect us in our days.


On yon distant hill
A staunch bugler blares;
Sounding out a warning
To every foreign dare--

For nations rise and nations fall
T'was reflected in Thy script;
What lies ahead of soaring storms
America will come to grip!

Oh,--the brave and the free
Must come to you and say,
God, Thou Faithful Father,
Please guard us in our "play"--

For we as small young children
Laid our souls to rest
Upon Thy golden throne
With every sin confessed.

The country tis much stronger
Than ever she was before;
Oh, keep her with Thou will
Throughout our struggling chores!

How much time we've spent on emphasizing the true qualities
In life; always stressing the positive values of living in a
Free nation where the worth of a single individual is paramount.
God, make us mindful of what a tremendous price our Founding
Fathers paid in establishing a great nation like America!!!

Amen!! And Amen!!

The service has now ended
The people go their way,
For America t'was made for working
And not for weeping say--

The columns now have marched
Upon eternity's sky
Guarding us by day
In God's watchful eyes--

The flag colors glow so brightly
Blowing in the breeze,
For many a heavenly angel
Got down on their knees--

Submitted May, 2001