WWII vets honored at D-Day ceremony

By Charley Najacht

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Seven area WW II veterans attended the D-Day commemorative ceremonies last Thursday at the 1881 Courthouse Museum in Custer. From left, back, are Ralph Scott, Rapid City; Norman Pudwill, Hot Springs; Harold Stickney, Custer; Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden, featured speaker; front, Roy Roadifer, Custer; Joe Lolley; Hot Springs; Clyde Gullickson, Edgemont; and Floyd Mills, Custer.

“We are here today to commemorate the day that changed the course of history,” said South Dakota Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden last Thursday morning, June 6, marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Rhoden was the featured speaker at the commemorative event held in the 1881 Courthouse Museum’s second floor packed courtroom.

Also in attendance were District 30 Rep. Tim Goodwin and Sen. Lance Russell, along with State Veterans Home superintendent Brad Richardson.

But the real celebrities were a  number of area World War II veterans who were recognized and honored at the ceremony that marked the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Allied invasion of German-held Normandy, France.

Rhoden said his family has a military service history going back to the Revolutionary War and included his father’s service in World War II and his own years in the S.D. Army National Guard.

Rhoden read the speech by Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to U.S. troops on June 5, 1944, the day before the scheduled invasion that saw 160,000 Allied soldiers landing on the shores of France the next day.

“Thousands of Americans died,” Rhoden said, and reminded the audience that 6,800 South Dakotans answered the call to service in the war. These included the famous Lakota Code Talkers who used their native language to confuse enemy code breakers.

“They saved many lives,” he said, naming his neighbor, David Bald Eagle, as one of them. “He served in the 82nd Airborne and missed his landing zone on D-Day,” Rhoden said. “We always took time to listen to his stories when he dropped by our home.” 

“South Dakota has a long history of supporting veterans. We have one of the highest levels of military service of any state in the country,” he said.

“We’re working to strengthen the State Veterans Home in Hot Springs and are finalizing details of a State Veterans Cemetery in Sioux Falls at which we are hoping to break ground this fall,” Rhoden said.

“It will be a tribute to our heroes, the ones who sacrified the most,” he said.

Following the ceremony in the courthouse museum, an American flag with 38 stars was raised on the flagpole outside, which was the number of stars on the flag when the courthouse was built in 1881. A 21-gun salute concluded the D-Day event.

WW II veterans honored included Joe Lolley, Army, State Veterans Home resident; Floyd Mills, Navy, Custer; Clyde Gullickson, Army, Edgemont; Harold Stickney, Army Air Corps, Custer; Roy Roadifer, Marines, Custer; Norm Pudwill, Navy and S.D. Army National Guard, Hot Springs; and Ralph Scott, Army, Rapid City.

Gullickson sang and led the audience in a number of patriotic songs, much to everyone’s delight.

Leading the event was 1881 Courthouse Museum director Gary Enright. It was sponsored by the local American Legion and VFW organizations; Daughters of American Revolution, Harney Peak Chapter; Crazy Horse Composite Squadron Civil Air Patrol Squadron; Custer Veterans Honor Guard; Custer Area Chamber of Commerce; and Custer County Historical Society/1881 Courthouse Museum.