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Honoring South Dakota's bravest
Your favorite South Dakota veterans in your words
Ahead of Veterans Day, The Dakota Scout queried readers about their favorite South Dakota veterans. The response was enthusiastic. Not surprisingly, many readers chose a family member as their favorite veteran. Here are their stories.
My favorite veterans are my dad and three of his brothers who all served during World War II. Emerson R. Gross, the first World War II casualty from Lake County and my namesake, was the uncle I never knew – thus my middle name of Emerson.
Emerson left SDSU to join the Army Air Corps, the predecessor of the Air Force, and be a fighter pilot. I would like to read a few sentences from a book my grandmother, Emerson’s mom, wrote in 1982.
“Elwood (grandpa) and I were named township leaders to assist in problems that might arise from the war. The day of June 2, 1942, we attended a meeting at the courthouse in the afternoon. I had washed cloths in the morning and the lines were full of them. We hadn’t been home long until we saw our mailman and his wife drive into the yard. He handed us a telegram which stated that Emerson was killed in a plane crash that morning. It just couldn’t be true. There it was, though, in the telegram. He was on a flight and had engine trouble. He tried to make it to a landing field instead of bailing out, as he could have, but the plane would have fallen on a schoolyard full of children. As it was, he lost altitude and couldn’t get out. What a tragedy for our family.”
Randy Gross, Elkton
My dad is Army, my uncle Jim is Navy, and their dad Wally Huff, the former Woodbury County Attorney, was also Navy. But if you think I am going to punt from my favorite Navy veteran, my wife Tracy, you are sorely mistaken.
She enlisted against parental wishes just out of her local high school, Chariton High School, in Chariton Iowa, where she was born and raised. She went fresh out of school into boot camp out in Jacksonville, Florida, and then her first assignment was to be stationed with the first group of women that were being integrated into active military service, on of all things an aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington. Not even a month into that service, there was a training accident which killed her bunk mate and boot camp friend Lisa Mayo, along with the pilot and two others.
Tracy served honorably and was discharged 6 years later, serving another 6 years in the Naval Reserves, drilling in Des Moines, Iowa until we were married and moved to South Dakota.
Steve Huff, Yankton
My father (passed away May 1997) John Riswold from Baltic, S.D. World War II, 7th Calvary Infantry 1943-1945 Pacific Theatre. A great American and father!
Upon returning from the war he helped his dad on his farm by Baltic, and also was store manager of C & E Department store in Dell Rapids. Got married in January 1946. In 1950 he started working at the John Morrell meat packing plant for 26 years and also farming operation until 1964. He was an active church member at East Nidaros Lutheran, Baltic. He played amateur baseball and was on the 1942 Renner state championship team.
Dennis Riswold, Chandler, Arizona
My favorite South Dakota veteran is my husband, Mike Mehlhaff, Jr. While he did not have to go overseas, he served Active Duty at Fort Lewis in Washington for four years. He then went on to serve in the South Dakota National Guards. He left the guards after 4 years but has continued to support local veterans through the Post 8 Legion in Pierre serving on their board and currently serving as a lobbyist for the South Dakota American Legion.
Terri Mehlhaff, Pierre
Being a public servant isn’t a new concept for Monica Serling-Swank. In 1982 she became a member of the U.S. Navy and held a Petty Officer 3rd Class role while stationed at NavCamEastPac in Wahiawa, HI. Here she served as a Cryptologic Technician Administrator before moving around the country and eventually meeting her wife Lynn, in New York.
Monica and Lynn were married in a civil union in Connecticut in June 2006. Following that year, they moved back to South Dakota — a state which approved a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions in 2006.
Since moving back, Monica has devoted countless hours to a multitude of causes including Sioux Falls Pride. In her volunteer role, she made it a point to ensure everyone in South Dakota had access to the same freedoms and respect we all deserve.
In 2014, Monica’s public service took the form of signing on to South Dakota’s marriage lawsuit. This solidified her stake in a fight that would later secure a win by way of the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26, 2015.
Adam Dale Jorgensen, Sioux Falls
David Mavity, a beloved veteran, dedicated over 20 years to the U.S. Army, achieving the prestigious rank of Sergeant Major in the Chemical Corps. His extensive service spanned not only across multiple U.S. bases but also in Germany and Panama, showcasing his commitment to defending our nation. Beyond his military accolades, David shines as an outstanding father, grandfather, and husband, embodying a deep love for his family. His astonishing intelligence and intellectual curiosity have inspired many, fostering a lifelong pursuit of knowledge. Remarkably, David's unwavering friendship with me has endured for over 60 years, a testament to his loyalty and character.
Greg LaFollette, Sioux Falls
Bill Peters, my husband. He enlisted in1966. He graduated from helicopter school and was sent to Vietnam in 1967 as a W2 Warrant Officer. He flew over 1,300 hours that year of which 600 were combat assault time. He returned to the USA in June 1968 and became a flight instructor. His military honors include National Defense service medal, Army Aviator badge, Good Conduct medal, Vietnam Service medal, Vietnam Campaign medal, Army Commendation medal and 35 air medals! He was honorably discharged. He then joined the Sioux Falls Fire Rescue and became a captain during his 23 years of service. He then owned his own business and served on many boards in our local community. After retirement is now serving in leadership with the South Dakota American Legion. A LIFE of SERVICE to others.
Sue Peters, Sioux Falls
My favorite South Dakota veteran is my grandfather, Emil Carlson, who served during W.W. I. He never talked to me about it but I have many artifacts that tell his story and I use them to share that story with my students. When I grew up in Rosholt, S.D., there was a good chance that on any visit to town (population 406) I would cross paths with a Vietnam vet, W.W. II vet, and W.W. I vet.
That is not the world my students live in and sometime they are unfairly characterized as not knowing or caring. I try to give them a chance. Being able to put those items in their hands and tell the story of a soldier who grew up on an island in a lake that served as a border for South Dakota and enlisted in Pig's Point, VA, gives them a chance to understand and appreciate what it might have meant to be a veteran.
When my grandfather was married years later the minister was Rex Johnson. Rex served in W.W.I also and was severely injured in a battle in France. After the combat ceased a wagon arrived to pick up wounded and administer aid. They walked past Rex and said, “This one’s dead,” and moved on. After rounds were made, the soldier driving the wagon said, "We have room for one more." Rex sat up and said, “I’ll take that!”
Left for dead, a South Dakota soldier who help me get to where I am today by uniting my grandparents in matrimony.
Lee Carlson, St. James Minnesota
George O. Johnson, from Irene, S.D., was a W.W. II combat infantry man in Company C, 317th Regiment, 80th “Blue Ridge” Division. Following their landing on the Normandy coast they fought and largely walked their way across France. In the early morning hours of Sept. 5, 1944 while attempting to cross the Moselle River in eastern France, George was wounded by shrapnel fractures to his leg and ankle from German shells. This was George’s longest day. That day he lay still in the high grass on the river bank. Other soldiers littered the river bank awaiting the cover of darkness which would allow rescue. It was a day of morphine and tourniquets until he was evacuated to an aid station and subsequently to a field hospital for his initial surgery to save his leg. Three days later he was flown to England for further surgery/treatments, then on to Halloran Army Hospital in New York and finally to Winter General Hospital in Topeka, Kansas. Following numerous surgeries over his 13 month hospital stay, he was discharged from the hospital and Army in September 1945. He would carry German shrapnel in his body the rest of his life. He earned a Purple Heart, which is quietly put away and rarely talked about. George subsequently became a lawyer, and lived his life in Sioux Falls with his family. He died in June 2022.
Phil Johnson, Sioux Falls
John Waldron, born Aug. 24, 1900 in Fort Pierre, was of Oglala Sioux heritage on his mother's side. He led a squadron of torpedo bombers, taking off the USS Hornett aircraft carrier, into the Battle of Midway. Waldron is credited with using his "Sioux Indian instincts" to actually find the Japanese aircraft carriers the morning of battle, June 4, 1942. Once airborne, he diverted from directions given by superior officers. He led the entire American attack force to the proper location. Waldron, along with 28 of the 30 flyers of his squadron, perished when their planes were shot down by the fast-flying Japanese Zeros. Waldron was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, class of 1924. He studied law and was admitted to the bar, but never practiced. In recognition of his gallant service, the Naval Destroyer, USS Waldron carries his name and the bridge over the Missouri river (connecting Fort Pierre and Pierre) was named in his honor.
Roger Baron, Rapid City
I would like to nominate a local, all volunteer non-profit organization that takes deployed and service-connected disabled veterans on fishing and hunting trips around the region. This includes open water fishing, ice fishing, pheasant hunts, and combo upland/waterfowl hunts. Resort lodging, meals, guides, boats, snow bears, equipment, ammo, bait, and most importantly camaraderie, are all provided free of charge to the veteran. Nature heals and these trips are precious to us vets. My nomination is the non-profit Warriors Never Give Up (WNGU) based out of Sioux Falls. WNGU has taken hundreds of veterans and active duty military on healing adventures at no cost to us vets. I salute WNGU for their efforts to bring some level of peace to our Nation's warriors. AIRBORNE! ALL THE WAY!
James B. Stengle, Yankton
Service-connected disabled veteran