The Vermillion City Council indicated Monday that it likely will join a growing number of community and University of South Dakota entities and individuals that are or will be donating funds to make the construction of the Patriots Plaza possible.
“The Patriots Project was inspired by a USD student veteran, but it was kind of in a strange way,” said Ross Dickenson, a former military science professor at the university. “He was riding his bike on the main campus and on his big backpack he had a U.S. flag. One of the professors stopped him and said ‘hey, do you think that’s a proper way to display the United States flag?’
“And the veteran said, ‘Sir, there is no other flag on this campus except at the Dome. If we’re going to see the flag, I guess I’ve got to carry it,’” Dickenson said. “There’s no other place at USD that you can have an event --Fourth of July, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, anything like that -- that is set up so that it honors veterans and does something for the military.”
Dickenson said that the professor said “we can do better than this,” and formed a committee that led to the planning and design of the Patriots Plaza.
“The Patriots Plaza is set up to do four major things. The first is to provide a place for flags at someplace other than the Dome at USD,” he said while showing an architect’s rendering of the plaza.
The plaza’s exterior will have a large, horseshoe-shaped walkway, with a large, circular shaped area of concrete in its center that has a flagpole in its center to display both the American flag and the POW/MIA flag.
Two other flagpoles will be situated at each side of that circular area. On one flagpole, the South Dakota flag will fly. The second pole will display the University of South Dakota flag.
Another thing lacking on the university’s campus is any mention of the three USD alum who are recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The Patriots Plaza will honor the three men, Dickenson said.
Col. George E. “Bud” Day, a 1949 graduate who served in the Vietnam War. Day was a U.S. Air Force pilot who was captured by enemy forces in 1967. He was recaptured after escaping and finally repatriated at the end of the war after years of torture and deprivation in prison. Fellow prisoner John McCain said Bud Day was the bravest man he ever knew.
Captain Joe Foss, a 1939 USD graduate who served in the U.S. Marines as a fighter pilot in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. He shot down 23 enemy aircraft and returned home to be elected governor of South Dakota. He was the first commissioner of the American Football League, was president of the National Rifle Association and held other various leadership roles.
Captain Arlo L. Olson, a World War II veteran who graduated from the university in 1940. Olson, of the U.S. Army Infantry, exhibited extraordinary and repeated personal heroism in the 1943 Italian campaign. After leading his troops in multiple engagements with German forces, he was fatally wounded and died only after being certain his platoon was cared for.
“The total cost of the Patriot Project will be about $150,000,” Dickenson told the city council. “We have talked to the sculptor at USD, from the College of Fine Arts, and they’re willing to put up statues for the Medal of Honor recipients, but that costs money.”
Later in his presentation, he told aldermen that he believes, with the community’s help, that “we can make this happen.”
The plaza will also include on or more donor walls recognizing other military veterans sponsored by individuals or organizations. It will also recognize the first century of the Army ROTC at USD.
Adding sculptures to the plaza would raise the cost significantly, so that option will only be considered if extra funding is raised.
He said he believes raising the money, which will also be used for landscaping around the Patriots Plaza, is “doable.”
In just this month, the Daughters of the American Revolution have donated $15,000. The Vermillion Rotary Club has donated $13,500, and the Vermillion Chamber and Development Company will provide the proceeds earned from their next annual golf tournament to the Patriots Plaza, Dickenson said.
Tom Brokaw has pledged $5,000 and other individuals have made pledges in excess of $12,000.
“During the university president’s State of the University speech, she (President Sheila Gestring) said they would provide matching funds for the first $100,000, so that made what I thought was a difficult amount of money to be a doable amount of money,” Dickenson said.
He said he would soon be mailing USD ROTC graduates, asking for their financial help.
Dickenson said he came to Vermillion after being stationed in Germany to be a professor of military science at USD’s ROTC department.
“I have three kids – they were in elementary school, one of my daughters has special needs and I think everybody knows Amanda – but the university brought me in, but Vermillion kept me here,” he said. “I had the option of going to another posting and I turned it down so I could retire here, so my kids could graduate from high school here, because the university brought me here but Vermillion kept me here.”
Dickenson told the aldermen of the rich experiences his family had thanks to growing up in Vermillion.
“There are people who are going to be coming to the university for Special Olympics; they’re coming for the university for any number of things and they will see the Patriots Plaza and that will make them think ‘the university is really great. Vermillion is great.’”
Dickenson said if enough money is raised, construction of the plaza could start next spring with a completion date hopefully by Memorial Day of 2020 “so it can be recognized at that time.”
If more time be needed to raise the necessary funds, he said, that will delay the start of the project.
City council members ultimately decided to help pay for a specific portion of the plaza and asked Dickenson to visit a future meeting with a list of itemized costs.
“If you want to fill in a line item, I will come back and see if I can get that information to you,” he said. “I will be glad to do that.”