Eye on KELOLAND: Telling the stories of American Heroes


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)– There are countless World War II stories and heroes with ties back to South Dakota.

For one Sioux Falls man, sharing those stories became a passion, leading him to compile hundreds of stories into a book.

In 1943, Douglas Starr joined the Navy at just 17 years old.

“I was born and grew up in New Orleans, see New Orleans is a seaport. Well, I saw a lot of ships and a lot of sailors, and it just looked to me like a very interesting life, said Douglas Starr, Navy Veteran served in WWII and Korea. “I got out of the Navy when I was 21, so I did the whole war when I was still a child.”

He was a sonar operator looking for submarines on the Nicholas 449 destroyer. His crew attacked and settled 28 islands, sank two submarines and survived many air raids.

“Then we were lead ship in the third fleet coasting in the South China Sea near Japan waiting for either a surrender or a refusal to surrender so we would attack,” said Starr.

While he was aboard this mission, Tokyo Rose falsely reported that Starr’s ship had sunk and there were no survivors.

“We didn’t know it because we didn’t have a radio or anything like that, so I didn’t find out until I got back in the states after the war and called my mother and she was all excited,” said Starr.

George Johnson’s war story is different. The Irene native joined the infantry in 1943. His unit was involved in D-Day.

“We went in like 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and we got in oh I’d say we go in a half mile or so before they even knew we were there,” said George Johnson, World War II veteran.

Johnson says they started experiencing opposing gunfire.

“It was a long, long day and by nightfall, they brought in more guys and the second day we were had a lot of new people and we had a lot of personnel, so we got along very well after that,” said Johnson. “The first day was the worst day.”

About a month after D-Day, Johnson was wounded.

“I was alone, and I mean it wasn’t guys around me that I could talk to, it was kind of talk to yourself,” he said.

Once he was found, Johnson was brought back to the United States. That’s how he met his wife.

“Because I was a native of South Dakota, they sent me to the nearest Army hospital which was in Topeka, Kansas. Then of course they had a lot of girls come out and visited and one of those has been with me for all these years,” said Johnson.

Johnson says being in the military is just a part of the story for people of his generation.

“At that time, anybody 18-25 was in the military and it was a good experience. It wasn’t one you would look forward to, but you were put there, and you had to do it, that was it,” said Johnson.

Sharing stories like these is Charles Rogers’ passion. He has been collecting news articles and stories of South Dakota’s World War II veterans for years and used them while he was teaching college history course about the state. Now, he has compiled all his research into a book.

“There are stories in there about families who sent maybe four sons and three came back. There are stories about families who sent two or three maybe five kids and came back so it’s a lot about the sacrifices that people made and how they dealt with it,” said Charles Rogers, author.

It’s about preserving memories for generations to come.

“They’ve been appreciative, of the fact that their stories are now in print and will not be lost, I think that was the important thing because so many stories have been lost but now, I’ve recovered at least a very few,” said Rogers.

Sharing war stories is important for veterans because it helps others to understand where freedom comes from.

“It’s good that they should know what it is. But you really can’t describe it as it really is. It’s not as bad as they say, but it’s worse than they say, it just depends on where you’re looking at it. Some days are worse, and some days are better,” said Johnson.

“People always thank me for my service, yeah but thank me for doing my duty. My duty is to keep this country free, and I think I did, and I think I’m trying to still do that,” said Starr.

You can find many stories of men and women who served positions in all branches of the military, including information on Native American Code Talkers in the book. If you would like to purchase a copy, you can find it at Zandbroz, the gift shop at the old courthouse or on Amazon.

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