Military History


Harry Clifford Marshall died in 2010 in Rapid City. According to Bev Peachan, "While working with the power company [Dakota Power and Light] he learned to fly, obtaining his commercial pilot’s license. After the attack on Pearl Harbor and World War II began, he obtained his pilot instructor’s license and was commissioned as an officer in the Army Air Corp Training Command. He went to California where he trained Army Air Corp cadet pilots. The later part of the war he spent in the Air Transport Command in the China, Burma, India (CBI) theater flying 'The Hump' operations."

According to Daniel Phoenix (Command Curator and Senior Historian, Barksdale AFB in 2017), "Harry Marshall is another of those West River characters-turned-legend in their own time."

Grace Childs' new book is available on Amazon (Kindle edition): My Memories of World War II Homefront. "I was born in mid North Dakota in the depression era and grew up in a large, poor rural family," she begins. more

Free online courses. The "open university" approach from top British universities.  Several dealing with WWI.  History oriented.  Veterans in the Black Hills are just as close to the action as anyone else in the world. more

On August 13, 2011, Ray and Josephine Cowdery talked about WWII European battlefields that they have revisited with American veterans, centered around a slide show of their own professional European military history tours.   
Between 1984 and 2000 they took hundreds of veterans and their families back to the D-Day Invasion Beaches in Normandy, thru the Battle of the Bulge and Market-Garden battlefields in Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland, Remagen Bridge, Munich, Berlin, Berchtesgaden, Dresden, the Nazi rocket facilities at
Peenemünde, to Vienna and Prague, and many of the infamous concentration camps of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. They also specialized in off-the-beaten path historical spots related to Audie Murphy, the death of Erwin Rommel and Reinhard Heydrich for example, and traveled heavily in eastern Europe before the end of Communism.  They were in Berlin the day the Wall came down in November 1989.

Traveling to the Twin Cities?  You might be interested in the monthly World War II History Round Table lectures at Fort Snelling.  Speakers are military historians who have published books about WWII. Two-page abstracts are provided for each lecture (and are downloadable from their archives). Ray and Josephine know this organization well.

Read CW5 (ret) Duke Doering's article about the South Dakota Nationa Guard's 109th Engineer Battalion in Sturgis which ended 77 years of service in 2007. To be included by German professor in forthcoming book. more and even more

Chuck Ellington presented on Sir Barnes Wallis at the July 9th meeting.  Wallis was the British genius who 1) designed the Vickers Wellington bomber, and 2) devised the plan for the "Dambuster" destruction of German Dams in the Ruhr during May 1943, and 3) designed the "Tallboy" and "Grand Slam" bombs, used in sinking the Tirpitz and wrecking the Bielefeld viaduct respectively. The Dams Mission was the first precision bombing raid in history, long since the high-drama stuff that Hollywood thrives on. Ellington was a defense engineer for 34 years, primarily as a weapons vulnerability analyst for the US Navy in the Virginia-Pentagon-DC military beltway area. More by Rapid City USAF veteran Larry Mayes on Barnes Wallis . . .

Frank Buckles was the final American veteran of the Great War. He visited the Black Hills in July of 2008, at the invitation of the National Park Service and the Mt. Rushmore National Memorial Society. He was honored during Independence Day activities at Mt. Rushmore for his military service in World War I, for his survival as a civilian prisoner-of-war during World War II, for his many years of service to his country traveling the globe as a steamship purser, and for his well-lived long life.  Listen to SDPB’s Jim Kent conduct six audio interviews with Buckles during his visit to South Dakota. more

Writing about military history is a natural for veterans who stay in shape by reading and writing every day.  Be sure to check out articles in the "Military History" section in the masthead, the latest being Ray and Josephine Cowdery's article on the French railway coach that housed key surrenders during WWI and WWII.  Click on graphic.

Ray was born and raised in Minnesota.  He served in the US Marine Corps, and his father served in the Pacific as a combat medic during World War II. He traveled all over the world for his importing and exporting business.  Josephine was born and raised in Holland, where both of her parents survived the 5-year German ocupation World  War II under difficult circumstances.  The war was a frequent topic of conversation during her childhood.  Before moving to the
USA she traveled the world as a flight attendant for KLM.  In 1995 she became an American citizen.

"Target Vienna" is another recent photo essay by Ray and Josephine Cowdery which provides a history of the flak towers near Vienna.  These towers may have shot down Had Taylor's B-24 and other Black Hills prisoners of war and bomber crews. Click on photo.

Sonia Cody
of Rapid City talked about her experiences as a young girl during the Battle of Britain at the January 9, 2010, meeting. She remembers how her father, a British officer in the famed Black Watch, first settled the family in India during the waning days of the British Empire. When WWII broke out, he moved the family back to England.

She shared wartime memories of life in Leeds and Cambridge, including intense neighborhood bombing and everyday deprivations, as well as poignant sketches of family life. Her father was severely wounded while fighting in the North African deserts. At 22 she moved with her Vietnam veteran husband to Rapid City, where she continues to write and pursue art.
An examination of the little understood history of the World War II jeep was presented by author and former US Marine Ray Cowdery and World War II jeep owner Andreas Gronemann, both of Rapid City, on April 11, 2009. 
Cowdery wrote the two bestselling books on the history of the legendary and ubiquitous quarter-ton 4 x 4 reconnaissance car (jeep) of World War II and Gronemann has the distinction of being the owner of a jeep that came back to America from Germany  after a service life in Europe of over half a century.
Supplied in enormous quantity to virtually every Allied country through the generosity of the American taxpayer during World War 2, only about 5000 of the powerful little jeeps have survived in the hands of collectors who spend countless hours refurbishing them to perfect condition.  No good American or foreign museum with a military section is without one, and they invariably draw large crowds of admirers.   The jeep was an American invention that came about exactly when it was needed and did what it was supposed to do right off the drawing board.  No subsequent version has ever matched the military utility of the first version.

Gronemann brought his restored World War 2 Willys MB jeep too.  Gronemann and Cowdery led a discussion of how the jeep got its name, who made the jeep and why, jeep advertising, why they worked so well in the many jobs assigned to them in service, etc  There was plenty of time for questions and answers and time for participants to share their favorite jeep experience.  Battle of the Bulge soldier Peter Dahlberg said that "I had the privilege of riding in one [jeep] from Ft. Campbell to Chicago and back after returning to the States following WWII.  We rode in a convoy to participate in an Army Day Parade down Michigan Blvd.  I have pictures of the parade.  It was quite an event."

On May 9, 2009,  we focused on a WWII love story as revealed in the artwork of a young American wife living in a small Minnesota farming community of 1500. The World War II Envelope Art of Cécile Cowdery is a collection of sketches, cartoons, and pithy wisdom that illustrated her daily letters to soldier husband Raymond who, the book describes, “
participated in the battles of Saipan, Guam, Leyte and Okinawa as a combat medic and was on the tiny island of le Shima when Ernie Pyle was killed there.”

Robin Berg, who compiled the envelopes in the book, says that “Some envelopes depict the loneliness of lovers separated by the war while others focus on humorous or joyful subjects. Arch-villains show up on envelopes only a day or two after a highly patriotic American theme. The sum is a wonderful collection of the thoughts and longings of all young Americans of the WWII period.” The book makes clear that the war was not just “over there,” but united homefront America with far-off battlefields, as well as personal lives with historic events.

Alone with children on her Minnesota farm, Cécile Cowdery excelled in those folk arts which required more initiative and self-reliance than money. She made a gamut of family clothes, sewed quilts, delighted in fresh-from-the-garden cooking. Personal art and letter writing were, of course, two of the most turned to folk activities when times were tough in those ration consciousness times. From home, she made much-needed extra dollars by enterprises such as baking and decorating cakes.

The public was invited to this slide presentation by Cécile’s son, author and military historian and former US Marine Ray Cowdery of Rapid City. He brought some of his mother’s envelopes.


George A. Larson (LtCol USAF retired) of Rapid City met with us on February 14, 2009, to discuss his latest book on the military history of WWII. Just published, Aerial Assault into Burma discusses the role of gliders in the retaking of Burma from the Japanese in savage jungle combat. Foiled was the Axis dream of a land link between Japan and Germany. Allied eastern India was spared from Japanese invasion, and the hard-won experience of using gliders in combat would soon be used in the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. As news releases of his talk spread eastward, Larson was later invited to speak at a conference on gliders held in the Twin Cities.
On May 12, 2007, Larson presented on the craft of researching and writing military history. He is the author of several books, such as The Road to Tinian,  about his father who served in the WWII Seabees, and hundreds of articles on WWII, the Korean War, warplane technology, and wartime experiences in the Black Hills during those periods. Larson served as a Strategic Intelligence Officer with the former Strategic Air Command and then with the Defense Intelligence Agency. When asked what he thought of the accuracy of military history documentaries on television, he said that "what sells" governs most choices for programming design. "What's entertaining is the key," though all such efforts might stimulate further research into the this values-rich subject area.

On December 8, 2007, after discussing the little-reported-on cultural breakdown now afflicting Europe, the group listened to Dean O. Muehlberg, US Army Vietnam War veteran and best-selling author of the book REMF “War Stories”. He talked about WWII B-24 pilot Les Wheeler, who fought in the European theater. Little-seen photos recreated Wheeler’s life--and showed the connection to Dean’s own family. Tom Oliver, also a B-24 pilot serving in the same part of Italy at the time, remarked that the Wheeler manuscript reveals "a much grimmer picture than what I remember."


Joseph C. Price
of Piedmont (MSgt USAF ret), after decades of experience with fighters and bombers in the Far East and elsewhere, told the story of his uncle Frank H. Price to us on March 8, 2008.  His uncle
participated in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars as a US Army combat helicopter pilot. Frank left an innocent boyhood among the hills of eastern Kentucky to experience the strangeness of foreign cultures and the horrors of war.

As Joseph Price recalls, "Recently I did an interview with my uncle CW4 Frank Price. He flew helicopters during the Ia Drang battle. He flew for the 227th. He vividly remembers that battle and detailed those 3 days to me. He never really talked about it before, but he opened it up to me. Since then I have made contact with some of those men he flew with and it has been a real eye opener”

Betty Bittner of Black Hawk has discovered that her great-uncle's WWII combat diary contains valuable anecdotal history.  South Dakotan Sgt. Edward Wise was a US Army radio technician who saw action in the Battle of the Bulge, especially at the Remagen bridge and the Siegfried Line.
At one point, Wise recorded that "We got into the middle of an open field and the Jerries opened up with machine gun fire and pinned us down. We crawled to a hedgerow and laid behind it for protection. But Jerry started to throw mortars at us and we could see them get closer and closer. I knew sooner or later they would have the range and that would be the end. I think at this time I did the bravest thing I ever did. I told the guys they would get us and told them to follow me. I ran right thru the mortar and machine gun fire and never got hit. Only a few of us got out of that alive."

Read a Black Hills veteran's thoughts on Gen. MacArthur on a recent post.  Writing daily keeps us in shape, so try adding some of your own ideas as a comment.  Don't forget that search engines worldwide will publish your thoughts immediately (if someone notices).  The presence of a "live" audience, even if small, makes writers aware of the importance of what they say. 

Veterans often write up the tales of other veterans for publication in national magazines.  Written by LTC George A. Larson, read the Pearl Harbor story of Rapid City's Stan Lieberman published in the December 2009 issue of Military magazine (and check out their submission guidelines).
The 2011 Ghosts calendar, which focuses on military aviation history, will feature some of the aerial photography (WWII, Pearl Harbor) of Rapid City soldier Stan Lieberman, as submitted by LTC George A. Larson (USAF ret, Rapid City).

Rapid City's Ralph Schat is working with LTC George Larson (USAF ret) to write up the WWI experiences of his father Renold, who was a soldier in the Battle of Château-Thierry, fought on July 18, 1918, under General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing. This battle was part of the Second Battle of the Marne.