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October 05, 2017 10:37 PM

South Dakota Warrior

Joe Foss is South Dakota's most famous war hero, but tonight we have the story of one of World War Two's most unsung heroes.

He's a Native American from Fort Pierre. You may never have heard of Lieutenant Commander John Waldron, yet many historians believe his leadership and heroics changed the outcome of the war.  

"There's an old saying 'when an old man dies, a library burns.' " film producer John Mollison said. 

John Mollison directed and produced 'South Dakota Warrior,' a short film about LT Commander John Waldron.

"John Waldron's story is one of those real life moments from history; it's got courage, it's got duty, it's got failure, it's got tragedy, it's got cowardness and it's got heroism," Mollison said. 

Waldron played a pivotal role in the Battle of Midway.  

Instead of following orders, Waldron, in a sense, committed mutiny and led a squadron of planes to attack the Japanese fleet where he believed the ships were sailing, which wasn't the same place his commander ordered him to go.  

"When we were making this film, we wanted to find out what drove John Waldron to make a very crucial decision at a very important time," Mollison said. 

"Commander Waldron felt something in his bones, in his instincts, whatever it was, to break away and lead his squadron in a different direction,' Mollison said. 

Many believe, including Vietnam Veteran and Purple Heart recipient Francis Whitebird, it was Waldron's Sioux Indian blood that allowed him to make a brave, yet bold, decision.  

"When he went in, knowing he was probably going to die, he still did it and the men followed him," Vietnam Veteran and Purple Heart recipient Francis Whitebird said. 

Whitebird is presented in the film as an expert in the Lakota culture. 

"You don't want to do something cowardly, because when you get home that truth will come out," Whitebird said. 

Whitebird says those feelings are strong among the Native American culture and are what drove Waldron to perform a selfless act.  He could have followed orders or even returned to the carrier to refuel.

"But the John Waldron, the Sioux Warrior, I don't think he every considered it, there's the enemy I know where he is, I'm going to strike him if I can'" an historian said. 

And strike they did. 

Waldron and his squadron attacked the Japanese fleet.  It created a distraction.  While they were being shot down by the enemy, other US Naval forces bombed the fleet from above. 

"There's no doubt that in those moments when the Japanese lost their carriers, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, the Japanese suffered a horrible blow, they could not recover from the offensive and from that moment on we were on the offensive," Mollison said. 

Everyone in the squadron, except one, was shot down, including Waldron.  Their sacrifices, many believe, changed history. 

"If we wouldn't have destroyed their fleet, the war could have gone on another month, year, " Mollison said. 

"Every school child should know his name," Fortt Pierre Mayor Glorida Hanson said. 

Gloria Hanson admits she never knew the story of John Waldron while growing up in Fort Pierre, but has been intrigued over the past couple of decades by his heroism. She strongly believes he's an American hero.

"We all need heroes, we all need somebody to look up to and aspire to and I think our kids are left with heroes who aren't real heroes, they are left with narcissistic rock stars and overpaid sports figures, this is a true hero," Hanson said. 

A hero, who's courageous act, is now well documented in time (Show Time Magazine cover) and now on film. 

"In that way the deeds of a person of a warrior or a hero become legend and when you become a legend, you live forever," Mollison said. 

 South Dakota Warrior premieres in Fort Pierre at 6:30 p.mm, October 6 at the Pat Duffy Community Center. It premiers in Rapid City at 10:00 a.m. on October 7, South Dakota Air and Space Museum.

Tickets are not required, the viewings are free. 

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