Jeff

Description

Written Memory

Date

September 19, 2009

Text

I was with Btry A- 147th Arty (Sisseton unit) of the SDARNG during the flood. We were training in the badlands, and had the weekend off. It was visitors day, and my fiancee had come to visit with us. I remember that the wind was blowing very hard from the southeast in the badlands where we were camped. My good friend, my fiancee and I headed into Rapid City in my new pickup. As we got closer to the city, we noticed huge, dark clouds to the west of Rapid, and soon it began to rain very hard. My friend had his footlocker in the back of my pickup, and he wanted to stop at the first motel we came to. However, I felt we should go a bit farther. We finally stopped at a place called the "Tip Top motel". I have no idea if it's still there, but the motel he wanted to stop at was gone just a few hours later.

The Tip Top motel had a restaurant in the basement, and we all went there to eat. I had never had trout before, and ordered it. We had just begun to eat when the lights went out. We stayed in our seats for several minutes waiting for the lights to come back on, and finally someone came downstairs with a flashlight and ushered us back upstairs. We looked out over the now dark city, and saw numerous fires. The noise was like a freight train. I still haven't gotten to eat trout.

I was still in uniform, and there was a regular army major staying in the motel. My friend had gone to his room, and the major (whose last name was Disney) told me that he was assuming command of me in this emergency. I had no idea if he had the authority to do this, but I was not about to question a major. He had a jeep, and we took off in it with me driving. The rain was coming down in a fashion that I cannot describe. We drove to some place where there were several police and firefighters, and they wanted us to follow a firetruck to some place and try to pick up some stranded people. I do not swim, have always been afraid of water, and this was not something that I wanted to do. However, I followed the firetruck in our jeep, and the water kept getting deeper and deeper. finally, it began to splash over the hood of the jeep. I was scared, and soon the jeep began to slide downstream with the current. It kept going till it finally hit a curb or something and then we continued on. I later found out that jeeps have their air intake up in the frame somewhere, and the engines are insulated somehow, so that's what kept the thing going.

We finally got to where we were supposed to go, and loaded up a woman and child. We took them to higher ground somewhere and left them. By this time the dam had burst, and we could not get back to where we started. We spent the rest of the night trying in vain to save the poor souls who were floating past and crying for help. The water was filled with a mixture of furniture, dead horses, trees, parts of houses, cars and trucks, and I'm sure several human bodies, along with some who were trying to swim to safety. Not a nice night!

When dawn broke, the scene was impossible to describe. Everything that was left was covered in mud. There were piles of debris all over the city, and survivors were walking around in a daze. Many were looking for family members, and some were hysterical. We came upon a liquor store that was being looted by several Native Americans. The major had a sidearm, and suggested that looters should be shot on sight. I said that we should leave them alone. The liquor was ruined for resale anyway, and the Natives would drink themselves into a stupor and stay that way for as long as the liquor held out. I was not about to kill someone over some liquor.

We went to an overpass near the interstate, and cleared several houses for bodies. We did find several bodies, and the expression on their faces was horrible. There was mud and debris in their mouths and their eyes were wide open. I did not like this at all. We transported several of the bodies to funeral homes which were so full that we had to lay the bodies in their garage.

We got back to our motel around noon, and I found my fiancee in her room. She had been trying to call her parents to tell them that she was OK, but she didn't know about me. We finally got through to her parents, and had them call mine to inform them that I was OK too. Later that day, we walked to a store and I bought a RCJ Sunday paper. I put it in my footlocker and forgot about it. Found it several years later, and still have it. It is in perfect condition, and I'm keeping it in a ziplock plastic bag. I have no idea why I'm still keeping it, but it's still here. Lots of pictures of the flood, and also a lot of stories of survivors. I suppose someone will want it someday.

I got a couple hours of sleep and tried to contact my unit, but had no idea how to get through to them. I finally found some members of my unit,and joined up with them. We spent many days and nights walking guard duty in the Dark Canyon area. It is aptly named, since it was very dark and spooky at night. There were dogs and other animals that survived the flood lurking about in the debris. My commanding officer came by one night, and informed me that my uncle had died of a heart attack. I often wonder if he was stressed worrying about my safety.

We spent several of the next days searching through debris piles for bodies. I remember seeing a tiny mud caked hand under a piece of plywood, and thinking that it was a drowned child. Thankfully, it was a life-sized doll. There were also many snakes that had washed down in the flood and had stuck to the piles of debris. The nights were spent guarding the Dark Canyon area, which had been devastated by the flood. Parts of houses were piled up near the canyon walls. After several days, the smell of decaying matter was nearly unbearable. I really hated the nights. We had Army issue flashlights that gave off very little light, and after an hour or so, they would go dead. These were very long, spooky nights without light. Sometimes the Salvation Army would come by with their wagons and give us sandwiches and coffee. I remember one night they had chocolate chip cookies. Best I ever tasted! We very much appreciated their efforts, and I have always tried to give all I could to them at Christmas.

It was during the flood that I felt so helpless for the people who needed to be saved. I made a vow to myself to someday learn to help people when they are in need. It took me many years, but I finally became an emergency medical technician, and have worked on our local ambulance squad for 21 years now. However, I still don't swim, and if someone needs help in deep water---they're on their own till someone brings them to dry land. Then I'll do my best to help them.

Jeff 'meyerjh@venturecomm.net'

Collection

Citation

“Jeff,” Flood of 1972, accessed January 21, 2022, https://1972flood.omeka.net/items/show/525.