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South Dakota's POW-MIAs honored as part of nationwide 'Ride for Freedom'
Rolling Thunder Inc.'s South Dakota chapter hosts demonstration as part of Memorial Day Weekend ceremonies
The 80,000-plus American military members who remain missing from U.S. military conflicts of the past — including servicemen and women from South Dakota — were top of mind Sunday during a ceremonial honor ride in Sioux Falls.
Flags of the United States, all its military branches and POW-MIA banners flapped while the sound of thunderous Harley-Davidsons and Indian motorcycles circled through the South Dakota State Veterans Cemetery before the caravan of veterans and their families continued on to Veterans Memorial Park in Sioux Falls.
VIETNAM: 50 years later
“A major function of Rolling Thunder, Inc. is to publicize the POW and MIA issue, to educate the public that many Americans — prisoners of war — were left behind after all previous wars, and to help correct the past and to protect future veterans from being left behind should they become prisoners of war or become missing in action,” said Steve Stutson, president of Rolling Thunder’s South Dakota chapter.
Part of a nationwide effort, Rolling Thunder Inc. held similar ceremonies throughout the country Sunday. At South Dakota’s event, stories were told of servicemen and women from the region who served in conflicts ranging from World War I through Vietnam and the Cold War. Some never made it home — alive or dead.
The following stories of service members were shared Sunday.
World War I - 116,516 US Sevice members lost their lives fighting for freedom, I am one of them. My name is August Sudbeck and I lost my life at Flanders Field in Belgium. I was born on Oct. 8, 1889 in Cedar County, NE and moved to South Dakota before entering the Army. My rank was private in the Army with the 363rd Infantry Regiment, 91st Division. I took my final breath on Oct 31, 1918 during a battle at the final advance in Flanders Field. This was a major battle theatre on the Western Front during the First World War. A million soldiers from more than 50 different countries were wounded, missing or killed in action there. Entire cities and villages were destroyed, their population scattered across Europe and beyond. The remembrance of this battle is the Poppy flowers which grow in Flanders Field.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
World War II - over 120,000 U.S. service members were held captive as POWs while fighting for freedom. I am one of them. My name is Lewis Rose, I was born in Sioux Falls on March 24, 1922. I entered my service in the Army Air Corps on Nov. 19, 1942. I was sent to advanced training in Lincoln, NE for eight months to become an Airplane Electrical Mechanic, later achieving the rank of sergeant when I advanced to an Airplane Maintenance Chief. I was assigned to the 86th Fighter Group and later became a member of the 31st Fighter Group 307th Fighter Squadron. In 1943 while flying in a B-17 during a mission, I was located in the tail gunner area of the plane when we took fire resulting in our plane going down in Germany. I was captured and taken as a POW for 22 months. Once freed I was taken to England for surgery to remove a portion of my lung from injuries I received, and was awarded a Purple Heart. Once I fully recovered I returned to Sioux Falls, where I worked for the city Parks Department for an impressive 45 years. During that time I was instrumental in the development, and maintenance of the Sherman Park Ball diamonds. In 1979 I was very honored to receive the Cruisenberry Award as Civil Servant of the Year. After retiring in 1984, I lived out the rest of my life surrounded by family and friends.
Korea - Almost 37,000 U.S. service members lost their lives fighting for freedom, and I am one of them. My name is Melfred Johnson and I lost my life in the Chong Chon River area of Kunu-Ri, North Korea. I was born on Jan. 4, 1930 in Madison, S.D. I later moved to Sioux Falls, until I entered the Army to serve my country and provide a better life for my family. I was a member of Company C, 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion 2nd Infantry Divison. I was listed as missing in action while fighting the enemy and allowing the members of my unit to retreat. I was listed as Missing In Action (MIA) on Nov. 28, 1950 during a battle deep in northern North Korea. I was presumed dead on Dec. 31, 1953. My remains still lie in the soil of this communist controlled country.
Vietnam - Over 2,700,000 served and 58,318 lost their lives fighting for freedom. Approximately 5,000 women served in the Army Nurse Corp, I am one of them. My name is Mary "Edie" McCoy Meeks from Minneapolis. After high school I attended St. Mary’s School of Nursing in Rochester Minn. St Mary’s taught me how to care for the physical, emotional and spiritual well being of patients. I was not killed while serving in Vietnam. I am still alive today. I started in Saigon at the 3rd Field Hospital. Months later I moved to Park Ku taking care of 50 patients in a quonset make-shift hospital. My shifts were six days a week for 12 hours a day, that killed part of my heart, my soul and my psyche. The sound of the huey helicopter in the field was a sound of relief to the medics and the wounded. That same sound to us nurses was stressful. It meant even more wounded were coming in.
We were mother, sister and friend to each of those young men. Some we knew for an hour or two until they died. Others for a day or two until they were stable enough to ship off to another hospital. We didn’t even know their names!
On June 8th, 1969 a fellow nurse, Sharon Ann Lane, was killed in action. Multiple rockets targeted her hospital. She was moving patients to safety, when fragments hit her in the chest and she died 1 month shy of her 26th birthday. Sharon was the only female nurse who died from direct enemy fire, however seven additional nurses died due to accident or illness.
When I visited Washington, D.C. for the first time on Memorial Day 1993, the sound of the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Protest, the dedication of the nurses memorial and seeing Sharon Ann Lane engraved on panel 23 W line 112 on the Vietnam Memorial, restored my heart, my soul and my psyche. I am proud to have been a nurse that served and supported our servicemen in Vietnam!
Cold War - 129 Sevicemembers lost their lives fighting for freedom, I am one of them. My name is Ralph Wingert Jr and I have been missing in action in the Sea of Japan since Nov. 6, 1951. I was born in 1925 in Des Moines and lived in Burlington, Iowa before I joined the Navy. I served as an Aviation Electronicsman 2nd Class on a P2V Neptune aircraft based at Atsugi Airfield, Japan. While performing a standard reconnaissance over the Sea of Japan in international waters, we took fire from a Soviet fighter plane and went down. A search and rescue mission was launched when we failed to radio in a scheduled report. Unfortunately our plane and all of the crew were never located. In 1992, America and Russia convened a joint commission in an attempt to locate the P2V and its crew members but were again unsuccessful. My remains will lie in the waters of the Sea of Japan for eternity.
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