By Major Tim Diede
Photos by Lawrence Namminga
Recollection of Springfield’s Company D and the Rapid City Flood of June 1972 Disaster mobilization for the Rapid City, SD flood was one of the missions Co D responded to in the history of the unit. For me, mobilization started with a phone call early in the morning and finding myself in the Springfield armory at about 0500 with fellow members of the unit. Unit members were trickling in from throughout the area and everyone was trying to discover what was going on as not too much was known at this point except there had been a flood and we needed to get to Rapid City.
At about 0530 my squad leader Sgt. Louis Cowherd hastily told me and several fellow soldiers that we were to load up and take off immediately as the “Advance Party” for the unit. We were off to Rapid City with a halt at the Wasta rest stop for fuel and then arrived at the Group Headquarters site by noon.
Our mission as Advance Party was to prepare a site for the arrival of the rest of the members of Co D and our equipment. This task involved the securing of a location for personnel and equipment and locating the various supply points for food, fuel and so forth that we would need to support the mission. This seemed like a huge task as many of us had never been to Rapid City and our group made up mostly of “young” Privates and Spec 4’s were overwhelmed with all the activity at the Group Headquarters when we reported in.
We young soldiers did not have to wait long to find out what we were to do. Returning from a meeting Sgt. Cowherd had me report directly to the mess sergeant SFC Charles Dawes. I reported to SFC Dawes who gave me the task of digging a grease pit for the kitchen and said he’d be by to inspect it later. After about an hour SFC Dawes came to inspect the grease pit and after sharing some of the finer points of grease pit construction he departed and I proceeded to complete the grease pit to specification. Other members of the advance party were assigned similar kitchen police (KP) duties. Anticipating a busy day with search and rescue we ended a long day by preparing to feed our fellow members of Co D when they arrived later in the evening.
As the day ended so did the mission for the advance party of Company D.
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 sizes and styles. Jeeps, dump trucks, cargo deuce & a half, five ton trucks pulling caterpillars and other heavy construction equipment were entering Rapid City. There were probably another four or five Battalions that were also arriving in the city at the approximate same time, so getting everyone to their assigned areas was a major endeavor. Added to that, Camp Rapid already had quite a few Guard Units bivouacked there because their two-week annual training had already begun.
When we arrived within the city limits of Rapid City, we were escorted to our bivouac area, high and dry in the western part of Rapid City. We were escorted because there still wasn’t any electricity within Rapid City proper and in many cases no traffic lights that were operable even if electricity were available.
On our way to the bivouac area we encountered mud, dirt, downed trees, and so many cars and trucks that were overturned, stacked against each other, and covered with mud. I found one car unusual, in particular, because it was resting on the back bumper and the front was resting high on a light pole. It was only the next day that we found out that when the car was removed there were bodies inside.
When we arrived at the bivouac area, we started to set up camp. Since, at that time, I was assigned as a cook in the mess section, we immediately began to set up the outdoor kitchen, but if I remember correctly. our first night’s meal was C rations, as food wasn’t available at that late hour. Still, another cook and I went to several of the big grocery stores in the Rapid City area so that we would be able to provide a good breakfast to start the next day. We needed to get enough provisions to get us by until the National Guard’s supply system was able to provide us what we needed. One grocery store, in particular, was very helpful as it urged us to take a lot of perishable items since they would probably spoil if they couldn’t get rid of them soon.
Our unit spent a great deal of time looking for bodies, the destruction and hauling away of destroyed houses and debris, and assisting in whatever ways we were called on to assist local authorities reestablish a semblance of order in a unprecedented disaster. For some reason, as I was leaving Springfield, I had thrown a camera and several rolls of film in my duffel bag. I still have those photos as a reminder of how nature can throw disasters our way at the most unexpected times. It is good that each state has a well prepared 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.