New book celebrates South Dakota’s WWII veterans

New book celebrates South Dakota's WWII veterans World War II. It was a time of great tragedy, but also a time of great national unity.

The war affected families the same in South Dakota as it did across the nation. Sons went off to war, daughters worked both overseas and stateside to support the war effort, and parents worried. South Dakota sent 68,000 men and women to war, serving in every corner of the globe between 1941 and 1945. They gave of themselves completely, and 2,200 made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and our freedom.

Today, between 12,000 and 15,000 WWII veterans live in South Dakota. They might be your next door neighbor. They might go to your church. They might be the person you meet as you amble down your hometown's Main Street. You might know their names, but do you really know who they are? Do you know what they did?

Forty-four of these amazing South Dakotans are profiled in Blue Stars, the latest release from PeopleScapes Publishing. Photographer Greg Latza interviewed and photographed each veteran, and the book displays these photos and allows each veteran to tell their story in his or her own words.

For example, Vermillion's Darrel Christopherson talks about surviving the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. Lyle Davis of Brookings details his harrowing capture near Anzio and his subsequent imprisonment in Stalags across Germany. Eagle Butte's Marcella LeBeau remembers treating a Rosebud soldier in a Belgian field hospital and finally meeting him again 40 years later.

Beresford's Oliver Carlson recounts his journey through France, Belgium and Germany and daily battles from D-Day until the fall of Germany. Presho's Arvid Ambur recalls his fateful bombing mission over Wake Island, when Japanese Zeroes and ground fire killed two of his crew and battered his B-24 Liberator.

"It was an incredible experience to sort through these interviews and try to piece together the war through their stories," Latza said. "Each veteran was impacted differently by the war, and they all had at least one big story that defined their service. By sharing these firsthand accounts, I hope to bring this historic event closer to readers in South Dakota."

The photographs are coupled with vintage war-era photos, bridging a half century in each veteran's life. Each book also includes a bonus CD which profiles 10 of the veterans featured in Blue Stars. Produced and narrated by South Dakota Public Radio's Curt Nickisch, the CD adds rich layers of detail using period music, radio broadcasts, and of course, the veterans' stories and their own distinct voices.

The Latzas own and operate PeopleScapes Publishing, a company that serves as a structure for Greg's photography and Jodi's writing and graphic design work. Besides Blue Stars, the Latzas have published four other books; The Missouri, Back on the Farm, Hometown, S.D., and a children's book, South Dakota: An Alphabetical Scrapbook. Blue Stars is available at most South Dakota bookstores and by special order from PeopleScapes at www.peoplescapes.com.

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