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Record Nat'l Guard Response To 1972 Flood

June 7, 2012, 10:08 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Record Nat'l Guard Response To 1972 Flood

The 1972 Rapid City flood was one of the deadliest natural disasters in American history.

It took a major effort from the military to help with the recovery in the weeks and months that followed.

The South Dakota National Guard played a crucial role in helping find survivors and give families who lost loved ones closure.

When it started to rain on June 9, 1972 guardsmen who were in Rapid City for training knew it was a strong storm, but they didn't know it was going to be a storm that would cause them to be called to action for several weeks.

"[I] went out to get something to eat and it started raining and you couldn't see your hand in front of your face hardly," Retired Master Sergeant Darrell Heimes said.

Heimes and Retired Sergeant Major Richard Trankle were both in Rapid City at the time.

Trankle quickly helped coordinate the efforts because he was also the South Dakota Assistant Director of Emergency Management.

"We knew that we'd have problems, we really did. There was about 15 inches of rain in the western part of the county," Trankle said.

They organized crews of guardsmen to take equipment out into the flooded areas of Rapid City on rescue and recovery missions.

"We pulled a family out of the water and had them in the truck and they were just freezing cold and the guy reached in his pocket and pulled out a wet one dollar bill and he said, 'I want you guys to have this.' He said, 'I don't have anything left but he says I got my family,'” Heimes said as he recalled one of his rescue trips. “I think that's the whole thing about Rapid City is they pulled together and helped each other and we were just simply a tool to help them.”

Twenty-nine-hundred guardsmen were activated in the month following the Rapid City flood. That's the most in state history; even more than the flood on the Missouri River last summer.

"I think when most of them left the Rapid City Journal had a headline something to the affect, 'Guard Leaves the City but Not the Hearts of the People,'" Trankle said.

Because that's how much of a role the South Dakota National Guard played in helping Rapid City clean up and recover after one of the worst natural disasters every recorded.

"Every soldier, everybody around here, they just couldn't have done a better job than our national guard," Heimes said.

And 40 years later, the National Guard is still being saluted for their efforts in the 1972 flood.

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