By Lawrence Namminga
Preamble by Dick Martin
Like September 11, 2001 and December 7, 1941 South Dakotans have an extra day, June 10, 1972, that they will not forget and probably remember what they were doing that day. On that day, disaster struck as Canyon Lake Dam in the Black Hills failed after 15 inches of rain fell in six hours causing Rapid Creek to overflow and flood much of Rapid City causing 238 deaths, 3,057 injuries, and 160 million in property damage. Rapid city needed help and the rest of South Dakota answered the call. Springfield did its part when many of its citizens, as part of Company D of the 153rd National Guard Engineer Battalion, joined the effort in contributing to the recovery operations in Rapid City.
To quote President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “A date that will live in infamy.” That quote could be used by South Dakotans as it is applied to the June 9, 1972 flood in Rapid City, South Dakota when 238 people lost their lives in the “Rapid City Flood”. For me, the emergency started after a day of working in the hay fields outside of Cody, NE, and my wife Cheri and I loading up the car and heading to Springfield for a night’s rest in preparation for the June guard drill of Company D, 153rd Engineer Battalion in Springfield the next morning. When leaving Cody, I remember commenting to Cheri that the Thunder Heads really were quite large to the west, even though we were 140 miles SE of the Black Hills.
We got to bed by 11:30 in my parents’ home and at 1:30 my dad woke me up and told me that I needed to report to the armory immediately. Little did I know that my two hours of sleep would be all that I would receive for the time covering the 48 hours prior and after my call up. Upon arriving, I heard that our unit and all of the National Guard units in the state, had been activated because of a flood in the Rapid City area. We had no idea of just how serious it really was. As guard members started to arrive, trucks were loaded with all of our equipment in preparation for the trip to the Hills. The unit proved to itself just how important readiness was in that it enabled us load all of the unit’s equipment that was stored in the armory in a very short amount of time. Most of the rest of Company D personnel had arrived by 5:00 a.m. and we were loaded and moved out of Springfield shortly after sunrise on our trip to Rapid City.
The trip out was uneventful and those of us that had transistor radios with us tried to listen to news reports that gave us a clue as to what we were facing. (We sometimes forget just how advanced communication and instant news reports are today as compared to 40 years ago; we really were in the dark!) Disbelief is the best word to describe what we were hearing on damage done and the lives lost and/or missing in those brief snippets of news coverage. When we got past the Ellsworth Air Force Base exit on Interstate 90, we began to see just how violent the flood must have been. Several sections of the interstate had been washed away and destroyed and water was still moving rapidly in the affected creeks, but nothing could prepare us for what we saw when we entered Rapid City.
Before I begin the narrative of the 153rd’s time in Rapid City starting with the day after the flood, I need to emphasize the volume of traffic that was coming into the city by the National Guard convoys and other relief vehicles. The 153rd Engineer Battalion, of which the Springfield Unit was a part, was composed of five companies, A, B, C, D and Headquarters Company. Each of the companies probably had 20+ vehicles of various National Guard system in place that is responsible to the governor for disasters that can arise.
There are so many interesting and tragic stories that I did not personally witness, but have heard from National Guard personnel that were present during the flood that tell of heroism, persistence, and tragedy. A friend, who happened to be in Rapid City at the time, witnessed the water rising around his car in the intersection while he waited for the light to change. He got through the intersection and was able to get to high ground, but he watched the car right behind him get washed away in Rapid Creek. He was listed as missing for two or three days until he finally got word that he was on the missing person’s list and got the error corrected.
The entire experience in Rapid City will never be forgotten and I am very proud that our National Guard unit was able to be a part of the recovery operations.
By Dick Martin
A few years ago, I took my family to Europe to tour the main WWII battlefields. On a couple of nights, we stayed on Omaha Beach. As long as we were going that far, we decided to spend a few days in Paris before we began our battlefield explorations. As we walked around Paris, I marveled at the excellent shape the city was in, despite the German occupation and abandonment of the city. It was obvious that the French Capital had escaped destruction during WWII that many other European cities had experienced. The story of Paris’ escape from destruction intrigued me. I knew there had to be an interesting story behind it. A friend clued me in that Paris escaped Hitler’s scorched earth policy because the man Hitler chose as his commander in Paris was General Dietrich von Cholitz, who disobeyed Hitler’s orders to lay waste to the city as the German Army left.
Cholitz, who has been known as the “Savior of Paris,” was determined to save Paris almost as soon as he was appointed its commander by Adolf Hitler. After three years of distinguished service on the Russian front, Hitler had brought General Cholitz west to head the German effort in Paris. It is thought that he obtained his beliefs about saving Paris from Robert Ley, leader of the German Workers’ Party, on a long train ride from the Fuhrer’s headquarters. At great risk to his family back in Germany, Cholitz disobeyed Hitler’s orders and is credited with saving Paris and saving thousands of prisoners from execution.
There is some skepticism of Cholitz’s actions against the Jews and other war crimes and even in saving Paris. For example, if he had been responsible for destroying Paris, he would be eternally held responsible for it destruction. He felt that it was acceptable for Paris to be damaged in the course of the war; but he wanted nothing to do with its destruction in a Hitler scorched earth policy of the city.
It cannot be argued that he surrendered the 17,000 man German garrison in Paris to the Free French and kept bridges and roads open despite Hitler’s orders. Hitler felt that if he could not have the cultural and artistic nucleus of Western civilization, no one else should have it either. It seems that Cholitz felt the opposite in Hitler’s plans for the city.
Paris did not really have any military value so Eisenhower and the allies planned to bypass it by going south of the city in its eastward advance across Europe. However, General Charles de Gaulle saw differently and thought bypassing Paris would somehow jeopardize his post war ambitions to head the French government. Eisenhower had many different pressures on him influencing his moves in Europe. If Cholitz’s actions in Paris saved the city from vengeful destruction, we can only be thankful and the world is a better place.
By Dick Martin
While doing research for Sunday’s Feature, I have run across miscellaneous information that may be of value to all of you amateur historians to keep at the back of your mind as you pick your way through whatever segment of history you may prefer to study.
If anyone has any new or different information about the above, please enter it in the comment section. Also, we sure would love to hear from others who have come across information like the above that surprised them.
By Dick Martin
Winston Churchill was said to remark that “truth in wartime should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” This remark was the inspiration for the name of the secret operation to shield the climatic WWII Allied invasion of the beaches at Normandy in northern France from the Germans. The operation was an elaborate ruse designed to keep the Germans dispersed from Greece to Norway by fooling them as to the location of the invasion. The Allies wanted the Germans to think that Normandy was a diversion with the main effort coming at the much closer coastal town of Calais, 150 miles northeast of Normandy and across the English Channel from England and the Strait of Dover.
The operation consisted of simulated preparations conducted across the English Channel in southeastern England. A 50 division invasion force called FUSAG (First US Army Group) was created. The ruse consisted of fake cardboard tanks and planes and General Patton making many very public southeastern England appearances as its commander. The Germans were sure General Patton would be the Allied commander. The French do not have much to be proud of during WWII, but the Resistance movement cannot be included in that evaluation. The French resistance with many varied tasks assigned to it was instrumental in the success of Operation Overlord. Through the efforts of courageous and daring agents and double-agents, seven weeks after D-Day, Hitler still kept seven divisions in reserve to counter what he thought would be the Allies’ true invasion location, Calais.
We will never know what the consequences would have been if Operation Bodyguard had not been successful. Planning for the invasion took a year, but it is scary to think that Hitler only needed 48 hours of advance notice to affect the success of Operation Overlord.
Taken from Wikipedia and The National Geographic Atlas of World War II
By Dick Martin
What did they do with all the rubble left over from the millions of tons of bombs dropped on European cities during World War II? This question was posed by Jose Emilio Hernandez to the staff of WWII magazine in its recent issue (October 2019). According to John Maloney, the former Principal Archaeology Officer of the Museum of London, the rubble had a variety of uses.
Dozens of cities, including London, Warsaw, Dresden, Frankfort, and Berlin, and nearly all other major German cities suffered significant damage or were completely razed. In continental cities, much of the post-bombing rubble was used as hardcore, the foundation upon which concrete or other solid construction materials can be laid for building or rebuilding. Additional bomb rubble was either dumped in old quarries or used for embanking rivers, as barriers against coastal erosion, or to help build up low-lying area of land. So much rubble was dumped in East London marshes, the site of the 2012 Olympic Park, that it has been estimated that it raised the ground by ten feet. Some of the rubble was used as ballast in empty supply ships returning to American to pick up more supplies for the beleaguered Londoners. Rubble was transported by ship to Manhattan in New York where it was offloaded and used as fill to create some new very expensive real estate East of Belleview Hospital between 23rd and 34th Streets, the FDR Drive highway, and Bristol Basin.
Edited by Dick Martin