David Lias

David Lias

Over two decades ago, during the dedication of the Clay County Veterans Memorial on the grounds of the Clay County Courthouse on Nov. 11, 2000, Mayor Bill Radigan noted that during that hour-long ceremony held in Vermillion, 65 of the nation's World War II veterans died. In addition, 20 veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars also succumbed to age or illness.

That got me to thinking, as Memorial Day approaches, what the stats in South Dakota and in Clay County look like when it comes to the number of veterans in our state, specifically World War II veterans.

It’s difficult to get an exact figure concerning the number of WWII vets left with us. One thing is for sure, though. The number has dwindled significantly since Mayor Radigan spoke at that special ceremony.

He died approximately five months later. He served during World War II in the European theater as a gunner on a B-17 flight crew. After returning home, he was active for 50 years as a state and national officer of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

He saw firsthand that war is a terrible thing.

"War is nothing but nasty, mean, dirty, and absolutely at times almost impossible for humans to carry out," Radigan said. "If that monument out there,” he said on Nov. 11, 2000, speaking of the Clay County Veterans Memorial that was being dedicated, “could possibly perform a miracle, and bring forth a young man or a young woman to find the answer to why we fight these terrible wars, I would be forever amazed and grateful."

He also knew that 25 of his fellow comrades from Clay County who were either drafted or volunteered to fight in World War II never returned home.

Audrey Ricketts, public information officer with the South Dakota Department of Veteran Affairs, noted in an email to us this week that the VA reports there are 629 WWII living veterans in South Dakota. The organization doesn’t, however, have a breakdown of Clay County veterans per era.

Drew Gunderson, the Clay County Veterans Service Officer, was able to provide some additional statistics. His numbers agree with Ricketts' concerning WWII veterans -- he informs us that there are 629 living World War II veterans in South Dakota.

There are 4,565 living Korean War era veterans in the state, who served in the military from 1950 to 1955. There are 20,772 living Vietnam-era veterans in South Dakota who served from 1961 to 1975.

There are 28,275 living Gulf War-era and pre-9/11 veterans in South Dakota and 13,073 living post-9/11 veterans in South Dakota.

I know much of what I’ve written so far deals with those who are still with us and Memorial Day is for those who no longer are -- a day for remembrance of those who have died in service to our country.

So much of what Radigan said during that special Veterans Day service 22 years ago, however, rings true today as Memorial Day approaches. He noted how blessed we are to live in a free country.

He added that we all enjoy a second, precious gift – one that we shouldn’t squander. That valuable gift, Radigan said, is time.

The flags that fly at the county veterans’ memorial, he said, recognize the time that veterans have given to the country to bring forth freedom, justice and righteousness.

The memorial's purpose, Radigan said, is to recognize veterans of the past, present and future.

Citizens need to remember the sacrifices made by the people of the U.S. military, he added, during not only times of war, but also times of peace.

American servicemembers, scattered all over the globe, become disconnected with their friends and family, he said. Some miss important family times, such as weddings and funerals. Long separations may spell the end of romantic relationships.

"All of this is based on time," Radigan said. "When you take days, months or years out of a person's life, they have given you a very, very valuable asset."

Radigan said back in 2000 that he hoped that the then-new Clay County Veterans Memorial reminds citizens to honor the nation's military, and also never forget the horrors of war.

I think he’ll be happy to know that Clay County and Vermillion still remember our fallen veterans while never forgetting the horrors of war. The local VFW Post will once again host a Memorial Day observance on Monday, May 30 at 10 a.m. in the First Baptist Church in Vermillion.

I hope to see you there.

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