By Rep. Kristi Noem
John Ellsworth was just 13 years old when his mother met him at the door and told him his father wasn’t coming home. 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 pilots’ visibility and 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.
Those who have served and the families who sacrificed beside them deserve our nation’s eternal gratitude. Since 1948, the Black Hills National Cemetery has been but one way this appreciation is shown.
Today, the cemetery offers 100 acres of peaceful landscape to serve as the final resting place for service members and their families. The facility, however, will not have the room required to continue serving veterans unless it is expanded.
After working with a number of area veterans and related federal agencies, I introduced the Black Hills National Cemetery Boundary Expansion Act, which would add around 200 acres of land to the cemetery by simply transferring federal lands that are currently under the Bureau of Land Management’s jurisdiction to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
By expanding the Black Hills National Cemetery in this way, today’s veterans and service members, as well as their families, can be assured that America will be able to offer our eternal gratitude for all they have done.
Earlier this summer, we lost Chief David Beautiful Bald Eagle, a courageous World War II paratrooper and one of the legendary Lakota Code Talkers. He too was laid to rest in the Black Hills National Cemetery and continues to be an inspiration to the Lakota people and everyone who had the privilege of knowing him. It is his legacy, the legacy of General Ellsworth, and the legacies left by the brave men and women like them that we honor at the Black Hills National Cemetery. Expanding it is a duty we must fulfill.
I was humbled to see our Black Hills National Cemetery Boundary Expansion Act receive unanimous support in the House earlier this month. While further action is needed before this bill reaches the President’s desk, I’m hopeful we’ll see movement before year’s end. Our veterans deserve the certainty that our nation will forever show its gratitude for the contributions they’ve made in protecting our security, freedom, and country.