They were images of an aftermath from a rapid rise and equally quick fall of Rapid Creek. And 40 years later the pictures of KELO-TV archives prove you don't have to leave home to see war.
“It reminded you of a war; a battlefield, you might say, as bad as it was,” Vern Brown said. “The only difference was there were no holes in the ground. The metal was all pushed in a pile.”
Brown was a 32-year-old National Guardsman then. His week of summer training turned into the real thing in an instant when a wall of rushing water taller than most people swept through town, toppling homes and moving everything else in it's path.
“[The cars] weren't sitting on top the mud. They were sitting straight up and down with the nose down inside. All you could see were the rear door and the trunk; that's all you could see,” Brown said.
But he remembers the people too. More than 200 bodies were recovered. Brown maintained the refrigeration trucks that housed them.
“When you opened the doors and you saw the bodies in there, that's what really got to me,” Brown said. “They were little kids, infants, and adults. It's very hard to explain.”
It was especially difficult for a man with children of his own waiting at home. And it's something Brown has rarely talked about.
“I will never forget,” Brown said. “When I come back, I quit the Guard because I could not take it any more.”
And he didn't go back. For 38 years Brown stayed away from Rapid City
The South Dakota National Guard celebrates its 150th Anniversary at its Camp Rapid headquarters From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. MT.