Feb 10 2017
By Rep. Kristi Noem
Through the many sacrifices made, our veterans and their families have earned America’s eternal gratitude. Since 1948, the Black Hills National Cemetery has been one way in which this appreciation has been shown, although burial space there is increasingly limited.
Tucked in the hills outside Sturgis, around 100 acres has been set aside to serve as a final resting place for some of our state’s most courageous. Included among these heroes is Chief David Beautiful Bald Eagle. Born in a tepee in 1919, Chief Bald Eagle served as a paratrooper during World War II. He – alongside John Bear King and Clarence Eugene Wolf Guts, who are buried in the Black Hills National Cemetery as well – was also a Code Talker. These men were critical to our success in numerous battles during the war, using their native languages to help protect, defend, and secure freedom.
Brigadier General Richard E. Ellsworth was also laid to rest at the Black Hills National Cemetery. This is a man who flew 400 combat missions during World War II and earned numerous metals. He returned to the U.S. where he eventually became wing commander of what was then called the Rapid City Air Force Base. While co-piloting a bomber during a simulated combat mission in 1953, his plane encountered bad weather. With limited visibility, the plane struck a hill, killing everyone on board. Later that year, Rapid City Air Force Base would be named in General Ellsworth’s honor.
These legacies continue to earn our country’s respect. This is a lesson in patriotism that Sturgis and other nearby communities have never forgotten. On a brisk day this past December, for instance, Pennington County 4-H, the Sturgis Boy Scouts, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary, and members of the surrounding community came together to place 1,000 wreaths on the graves of those laid to rest in the Black Hills National Cemetery – a community coming together around those who sacrificed much to protect it.
The cemetery, however, does not have the room required to continue serving veterans and their families unless it is expanded. After working with a number of area veterans and related federal agencies, I again introduced the Black Hills National Cemetery Boundary Expansion Act this year, which would nearly triple the cemetery’s size by transferring federal lands that are currently under the Bureau of Land Management’s jurisdiction to the Department of Veterans Affairs. I was humbled to see the House unanimously pass my legislation earlier this month and I’m hopeful the expansion can soon earn the support of the Senate, where Senators Round and Thune have introduced a companion bill. Enacting this legislation would be an incredible way to show our nation’s eternal gratitude for all our service members and their families have done.
One final thing: to all those who have served and to the families who stand beside you, thank you. You are what makes this nation great.