World War II


The South Dakota World War II Memorial has recorded the stories of hundreds of veterans.  Read especially from "Stories from the Front," "South Dakota Fallen Sons and Daughters," and "Testimonies from the Midwest." 
At our November 14, 2009, meeting, WWII USAAF tail gunner Charles Anderson of Oral shared his dramatic story of  being held for 350 days in a German prison camp in Poland.  Once liberated by the British, he walked for 84 days and 600 miles to the Rhine River, ending up weighing 85 lbs.

US Marine
Loyd Brandt
of Rapid Valley, and longtime electrician at SDSMT, spoke to us on January 14, 2006.  He was in intense Pacific action fighting in World War II, including the invasions of Tinian, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, at times with Black Hawk's Richard Perkins and Custer's Roy Roadifer. He was on Iwo Jima with Rapid City's Jack First during the famous flag-raising. As part of a reconnaissance team, Brandt was often involved with the enemy before the first wave actually stormed the beaches. His story "Brothers in Arms
" was written up in Leatherneck magazine and then again in Militaria International Magazine. Six of the seven Brandt brothers served as Marines at the same time in the Pacific. One, Herbert, was killed at Saipan.

On October 13, 2007, we listened to U.S. Navy submariner
Ward Cheney of Rapid City who served on the USS Hake and other warships in the Pacific during WWII.
Accounts of the Hake are often legendary. At one point, "She sighted a transport enroute to Japan 11 January 1944 and after a day-long chase to gain position sank her the next day. The submarine then continued to her cruising grounds off the Philippine Islands, patrolling off Luzon and later moving south to Mindanao. The night of 26 January she attacked a tanker, damaged her, and in turn suffered considerable damage from depth charge attacks before making her escape." In his book Silent Running: My Years on a World War II Attack Submarine, James Calvert refers to the Hake, Harder, and Haddo as "a three-ship wolf pack," the sub tender USS Proteus being the mother ship.

Cyrus Cox, professor emeritus of electrical engineering at SDSMT
, served as an electrician’s mate on Navy LCTs up and down the Solomons and Philippines, including Guadacanal and Bougainville. A native of Indiana, he spoke to us on October 14, 2006. In concert with the carrier Hornet, the LCTs traveled mostly at night but still received harrassment from dive bombers and mortors from shore. He rode out two typhoons, but said that one of the hardest parts was going without sleep for so long. His unit’s story is written up in The Amphibians Are Coming! : Emergence of the 'Gator Navy and Its Revolutionary Landing Craft, 2 Volumes (Amphibious Operations in the South Pacific in WWII) and other books by William L. McGee. Cy also highly recommends Thunder Below, the WWII submarine story of the USS Barb. _________________________________________

On April 14, 2007, two World War II Army veterans
were brought together for the first time in 62 years.  Peter J. Dahlberg and Paul Priest both fought in the Battle of the Bulge and the savage combat at the Ludendorff Railway Bridge spanning the Rhine River at Remagen. Both from Rapid City, Paul Priest was recently written up in a Military magazine article by Lt. Col. George A. Larson (USAF ret, Rapid City).
Priest remembers that in addition to the M-1 rifle, “Most of the time on patrol I carried three pistols: a long barrel .38 caliber German Luger, a .38 caliber Italian Beretta and a .25 caliber pistol. In close combat I preferred to use the pistols.” He later learned that his parents had been informed that he was killed in action, though it turned out to be a different Paul Priest.

Dahlberg especially remembered the intense cold, for himself and for German prisoners. "One German officer suddenly surrendered to me personally, handing over his binoculars, wristwatch, and 32 caliber revolver, but I didn't have the heart to take his watch." He later ministered "to other veterans through the years in the VA Medical Center and SD State Veterans Home in Hot Springs, South Dakota, where I served as a Chaplain for 30 years."  His illustrated story about experiences in the Battle of the Huertgen Forest, where he served with Rapid City's Warren Fagerland, is preserved at the dedicated website of a historian in Belgium at, under "Veteran Stories, Part 1". 

On September 8, 2007, we heard from World War II Army veteran Bob
Drew of Hill City, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge as part of the 90th Infantry Division, finally being among those liberating the SS Flossenburg Prison Camp in the Sudetenland. He shared his own candid photos from the European front, including negatives he'd captured from a bombed out photo kiosk in Sulzbach-
Rosenberg showing German soldiers and citizens in the final months of the war.

Drew's photo collection captures him throughout the war zone.  Others reveal more leisure-time looks at a soldier's life when not actually fighting.   One photo shows the west bank of Rhine exhibiting a pontoon bridge similar to those constructed by General Harvey Fraser (and later SDSMT president) across the river.

Warren Fagerland
of Rapid City fought in the Battle of the Bulge during WWII. He talked to us on July 12, 2008.
Fagerland crossed the Rhine River over the famous Ludendorff Railway Bridge at Remagen during an especially black night. According to his self-published autobiography, “We crossed single file, by each man holding on to the pack of the man in front of us. Even as we were crossing, the Germans were trying to detonate explosives under it.” 
Once in Germany, Fagerland’s unit was assigned the task of cleaning out the Ruhr industrial pocket, which he later saw as a mistake: “We could easily have bypassed the Ruhr and taken Berlin, saving thousands of lives, and saved what was left of Berlin from the looting, plunder and rape by the Russians.”
Fagerland’s autobiography includes personally remembered vignettes never compiled in other historical accounts. “At one time, I think in Lammersdorf, we took shelter in a small church for the night. It was being shelled, but we managed to get some sleep. Imagine our surprise to wake up in the morning to see a small group of German civilians gathered for services. They ignored us and held their services up front while we were gathered in the back of the church.” 
He was joined by three other Rapid Citians who were also at Remagen then: Peter Dahlberg, Paul Priest, and Bob Drew.  "Peter Dahlberg is a fellow veteran of the 78th Infantry Division who shared my experiences in the Huertgen Forest as well as other campaigns of the Battle of the Bulge, Remagen Bridge and Schwamenaual Dam. I have vivid memories" of many towns in the battle area, says Fagerland, "such as Bickerath, Simmerath, Lammersdorf, Schmidt, as well as Roetgen, Rollsbroick, Kesternick, although memories tend to run together. In the year 2000, I along with my son, grandson and about 25 fellow veterans of the 78th div made a battlefield tour of that area, where we also visited the Henri Chappelle Cemetery where we found the grave of my Company Commander."  Fagerland has been working with a Belgium historian maintaining a website chronicling the Battle of Huertgen Forest at  His story with pictures is published under "Veteran Stories, Part 1."

Growing up in Mystic, South Dakota, during the 1930s, Russel Frink of Hill City recounted his combat experience aboard a U. S. Navy destroyer in the WWII Pacific when he met with us on October 11, 2008. Frink’s first-person memoir is included in Pacific War Stories: In the Words of Those Who Survived, co-edited by Rex Alan Smith of Box Elder.

Frink had vivid memories of the intense fighting near Guadalcanal and throughout the Solomon Islands. He was often among the few ships still not sunk in battles at sea. On one occasion, Frink remembers trying to make a getaway along with a cruiser after torpedoes and ammunition had all been used up. The nearby cruiser was suddenly sunk, with only 10 of the 1000 sailors surviving. Five brothers from the Sullivan family were lost.
Despite the hardships, Frink estimated that the constant battles proved salutary in his later life. “In a destroyer engine room, especially when in combat action, you have to be able to cope with the unexpected and, often, do it suddenly. And out of this I developed a "can do" feeling and confidence in my ability to cope with situations as they arose.”

After the war, Frink returned to work in his father’s sawmill in Mystic and later in the Homestake gold mine in Lead. “I’ve had a good life, much enriched both psychologically and in opportunity by my Navy service, and at heart I will be a Navy man until I die.”

Our speaker on March 13, 2010, PT boat sailor John W. Fuller of Rapid City who was in the Aleutians one winter before returning to San Francisco for refitting, only to push off again for the Philippines just in time for the Battle of Leyte Gulf.  He continued fighting as the US military sought to retake the Philippine island of Mindoro.

John J. "Jack" Gerken
, late of Hill City, served on the USS Biloxi from 1942-1946 as a Spec. 1st class Navy Enlisted Correspondent.  His wife Georgia said that "He rarely mentioned (like hardly ever) just what he did during the war, altho he did say he wrote articles to be sent to hometown newspapers, among other things.  He did say that during battle everyone was involved and said the sound of the guns contributed to his being hard of hearing.  He also was in Japan as he came home with a kimono (which I have given to my granddaughter) and a few pieces of lacquered dishes."  Son Ed Gerken of Hill City maintains a webpage to commemorate his father's Navy service.

In 1944 Rapid City native Ken Halligan (US Army) was in the invasion of Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands.  Wounded in action, Halligan was in the first wave as the 7th Infantry Division strove to retake Leyte Island in October.  Afterwards, he ended up in Okinawa.  Picture shows Army soldiers making sandbag pier out to LSTs off Leyte Island to speed up unloading of war materiel.  He drove over Pierre on May 8, 2010, with son James to be at the meeting.  Halligan has finished writing his war memoir, War As I Knew It: Thoughts and Memories.
At the September 12, 2009, meeting, we heard from Alan Herbert of Belle Fourche.  Serving in artillery units until the end of the war in Europe, Herbert’s deeply resonating voice landed him a job broadcasting on the Armed Forces Network.  Those who were there might remember him as AFN's "Morning Man" during the Occupation, ministering to troops across war-torn Europe.

His story is a unique look at broadcast journalism more than 65 years ago, when tape recorders were “almost as big as a refrigerator” and when he interviewed people like General Omar Bradley. Often youthfully light-hearted in tone, the story describes AFN “barracks” life in a German castle and a picaresque jaunt across Occupied Germany in a homemade camper, one of the first of its kind. He married a German woman, Lisalotte, who had recently served as a lieutenant in the aircraft spotting service on the German North Sea Coast. She died in 1992.

Herbert later served as an Army combat correspondent during the Korean War, often under enemy fire. See this story under the “Korean War” section on the website. He remained in journalism for the rest of his career and currently serves on the Board of Governors for the 31,000-member American Numismatic Association.
Harold Jansen of Rapid City served in the US Navy during WWII and fought in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, with October 20, 1944, being a key date.  He was executive officer aboard an LST.  He spoke to us on March 13, 2010.  Read short article on Leyte by a WWII historian as background to his experience.


Former US Navy Chief George Jones of Rapid City served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. In the 1940s, Jones’s role was to coordinate amphibious landings on Pacific islands such as Iwo Jima and Okinawa where Japanese defenses seemed almost impenetrable. On November 8, 2008, he relayed to us snapshot-intense memories of his experiences.

“Kamikaze pilots seemed everywhere,” Jones remembered. “Casualties in the Navy were appalling, perhaps more than any other branch of service.” The weather itself could inflict sudden damage. “I can’t get out of my mind a picture of a nearby destroyer quickly going down in a storm with over 300 sailors scrambling for their lives, but all of them lost.” Besides studying meteorological conditions, Jones’s job involved firing big guns, being preoccupied with damage control, and seeing to the logistical needs of combatants under his care. “We now take water for granted in our comfortable lives, but with no evaporators then, each man was limited to one canteen per day.”
The death of journalist Ernie Pyle on le Shima off Okinawa was especially hard on the troops, according to Jones. Pyle sent news articles home that described fighting from the point of view of the common soldier. After writing four books on his WWII experience, Pyle was machine-gunned from ambush. Growing up in Texas, Jones himself eventually took up ranching in Burke, South Dakota, before moving to Rapid City.


U.S. Navy attack submariner Jim Lockhart of Rapid City described life below the Pacific Ocean during WWII when he met with us on August 9, 2008. Lockhart’s first-person account appears in Pacific War Stories: In the Words of Those Who Survived, co-edited by Rex Alan Smith of Box Elder.

Depth charges were the reality most feared by the crew. “They kept us down all day, and then they had us on their sound gear and that kept us down all night, and then all the next day. We were hard up, getting depth-charged that whole time,” he once relates. “But they were right on top of us, pounding us into the mud. It got to the point that if we surfaced they were going to shoot the hell out of us, but they were going to kill us if we didn't, because sooner or later they were going to get a depth charge on us.” They were often so short of air that even a match wouldn’t burn.

Sometimes the Japanese would think Lockhart’s sub was deeper than it actually was, so would set depth charges deeper. “Then we could hear them hit the deck and roll off along the side, but they didn't explode. They were set to go off too deep. But when you heard one of those hit the deck, you had time to say your Hail Marys!”

Lockhart described near-death escapes of his stricken submarine after direct hits. At another time, with only one torpedo left, his sub aggressively surfaced right in the middle of an enemy convoy. “There was a whole convoy, so we went down and we stayed down until that convoy got right over us, and we surfaced smack in the middle of it, so they couldn't shoot at us or they'd hit each other. Our skipper decided he was going to ram one of the Jap ships and the bullnose went into the side of the Jap ship and bounced off.”

Thomas K. Oliver, professor emeritus of electrical engineering at SDSMT, is a West Point and MIT graduate .   Following service in WWII, he was knighted as “Chevalier” by the Republic of Luxembourg for service by him and his father (an Army general during WWI) in liberating that country. The B-24 he was piloting was shot down over Serbia on May 6, 1944, but leaving him only with a very painful shin. He spent time afterward roaming the countryside with guerillas behind enemy lines, hosted by Draza Mihailovich and his Chetnick forces.
His dramatic story of crash landing, life on the run, and final repatriation with Allied Forces is written up as “Unintended Visit to Yugoslavia”. At another point, Oliver described his piloting a B-26: "I was in a dogfight with a P-47 and I won."  See also Operation Air Bridge: Serbian Chetniks and the Rescued American Airmen in World War II / Miodrag D. Pesic ; [translation Svetlana Gacesa].

Speaking at the October 10, 2009, meeting was Floyd Reed of Rapid City, a WWII merchant marine officer, who saw action in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Pacific, and Alaska before the war ended. He said that the US Navy was sometimes forced to sink merchant merchant ships, often with 35-40 crew, if an enemy submarine was spotted under them.
“Casualties were appalling back then, 1 in 26” Reed said. “I told my folks when I left for war that I probably might not come home.” He joined the mechant marines right after Pearl Harbor. At the time he was building bombers in Los Angeles for Douglas Aircraft and immediately served as a block warden in the civil defense system.  He was joined by friend Hal Weber (LTC Army ret).

PFC Jose E. Roybal of Rapid City went ashore at Omaha Beach during the invasion of Normandy.
I landed on Normandy beach on June 7, 1944. I was in the second wave to land on Normandy beach. I was in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. I was in the First Army 28th Division under Gen. Dwight Eisenhower."   He may have seen Wayne Brewster of Rapid City who was in the first wave the day before.
Roybal was born in Sapello,  New Mexico, where his family received a Spanish land grant before it became part of the United States.  He fought at Saint Lo and in the Battle of the Bulge and Ardennes Forest.  After entering the army in 1942, he was at England, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, and finally Germany, until 1946.____________________________________________________________

The February 13, 2010, meeting focused on longtime Rapid City broadcaster Verne Sheppard, who served in the Pacific and Far East as a radio operator in the Air Transport Command between 1944-1946.  He grew up during the depression years when his family operated a small town grocery store. Later, on the farm, he said, his work ethics were strengthened, and he learned the value of a dime.
Sheppard entered the military in April, 1944, in the Army Air Corps.  Toward the end, he was sent to the Pacific as a radioman aboard a C-54 in the Air Transport command, ferrying personnel and supplies to battle zones such as Guam and China, including Japan during the Occupation.  Besides being a broadcast journalist, he was a lay preacher in the 1970s, conducting services in West River towns such as Hermosa, Keystone, Fairburn, as well as the Hills Parish.
Sheppard said that "In the news media following the war, I had opportunities to meet and interview many in the military, news people, and those from other walks of life,"
the highlights being a news conference with Ronald Reagan and an interview of Bob Hope.  Read more about Verne Sheppard.
At the February 10, 2007, meeting we heard from Box Elder's Rex Alan Smith, who has co-authored two books on fighting in the Pacific during World War II: Pacific War Stories: in the Words of Those Who Survived, as well as Pacific Legacy: Image and Memory from World War II in the Pacific. Two sailors from the Black Hills, destroyer-based Russel Frink and submariner Jim Lockhart, were featured in Pacific War Stories. Both were present for the talk.
Smith remembers sitting in Stallings Drug Store in Rapid City when he heard news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He made his way into the Army Corps of Engineers as a civilian employee and eventually served on Navy ships throughout the battle-torn Pacific.
In addition to The Carving of Mount Rushmore, Smith also co-authored a book on air bases in England: One Last Look: A Sentimental Journey to the Eighth Air Force Heavy Bomber Bases.


On March 10, 2007, we spent time with Les Snyder, SDSMT Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering, who took classes at MIT during WWII. While radar was in its infancy during WWII, he was a navigator and bombardier during operations against the Empire of Japan while stationed on Tinian Island in the Marianas.
He related a bombing mission against Japan and a harrowing return to a recently captured Iwo Jima aboard a badly shot up and burning B-29 bomber. The recent Letters from Iwo Jima movie recalls the intensity of that ambient conflict. Snyder also has vivid memories of what daily routine was like: “we were awakened one night by the screaming of a man across the Quonset from me. He had been awakened by a rat biting on his ear.” Snyder later served in the Korean War, flying over fifty missions in a B-26 Douglas Invader, as well as six tadpoles (or tactical air direction posts). The transition from WWII to the Korean War is an important history lesson in his remembrance.

The meeting of October 8, 2011, saw US Army paratrooper Stu Steele, who served in the 517th Regimental Combat Team during WWII.  Steele's unit moved up from Italy right into the Battle of the Bulge.  Stu later worked in the radio industry with Verne Sheppard and operates a commercial greenhouse in Black Hawk with wife Ev (photo is their wedding in1954). more

On June 9, 2007, we met with two visiting Dutch citizens, Albert and Meke van Nierop, who recounted details of the German occupation of their homeland during World War II, including memories of daily hardship not known by American civilians during that period. They discussed how they found out the war started in May 1940, including gradual changes in daily life, school, curfew, and rationing, and how they tried to find food on roller skates and a bicycle, ultimately selling and trading valuable family possessions to eat.

They secretly listened to Dutch radio broadcasts from England, even while V2 rockets were launched in The Hague in the street where Meke van Nierop lived while Albert was away. Finally they remembered D-Day rumors and the liberation of the southern part of Holland in the fall of 1944, but not western Holland where they lived, which was liberated in May 1945. During the meeting, we passed around some German military brochures designed to recruit Dutch men into their armed forces.  Their daughter is author Josephine Cowdery of Rapid City.

Remembering Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941
2011 Ghosts calendar features a photograph of Rapid City's Private Stan Lieberman, United States Army Air Corps, in the back seat of a North American O-47 observation aircraft, holding 10x14 B-12 aerial photographic camera that he used to take pictures of Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack. Rapid City's Steve Warren, US Navy, was at Pearl Harbor as well.