John Ellsworth was just 13 years old when his mother met him at the door to tell him his father wasn’t coming home from war. America had lost a hero.
John’s father, Brigadier General Richard E. Ellsworth, flew 400 combat missions during World War II, earning numerous medals and proving himself as a man of great courage. He returned to the U.S. where he became wing commander of the Rapid City Air Force Base. While co-piloting a bomber during a simulated combat mission in 1953, however, his plane encountered bad weather, pushing it off course. The freezing rain and fog limited the pilot’s visibility. The plane struck a hill, killing everyone on board. A few short months after General Ellsworth was laid to rest in the Black Hills National Cemetery, President Dwight D. Eisenhower traveled to Rapid City to rename the base in his honor.
Since 1948, the Black Hills National Cemetery has been the final resting place to over 20,000 veterans and their families. It’s a place of peace, reverence, and honor. It’s a tribute to patriots and a token of gratitude for the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform.
Earlier this month, I led the House in unanimously passing a bill to add 200 acres to the Black Hills National Cemetery just outside Sturgis. The fact that the cemetery needs expansion is a testament to the astounding number of South Dakota patriots who have answered the call to serve. By increasing its current size, the cemetery can continue to serve South Dakota veterans for years to come. Getting this bill through Congress has taken years of work, but I’m thankful President Trump will have the opportunity to sign it.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of Honor Flight veterans who were about to begin their 2,000-mile pilgrimage to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. I was awestruck by their stories and the pride they carried with them to this day as veterans of the United States military.
But I know many couldn’t be there, as they paid the ultimate sacrifice for their service to our nation. May 28 marks Memorial Day. Thousands of headstones at Black Hills National Cemetery will be adorned with American flags and flowers, including that of General Richard Ellsworth. Their sacrifices will never be forgotten. These men and women are true heroes who have dedicated their lives to something bigger than themselves: freedom, patriotism, and American values. To all those who have served, thank you for doing so.