This Week In South Dakota National Guard History

In recognition of the South Dakota National Guard's 150 years of service to the state and nation from 1862-2012, the SDNG will be publishing significant dates in the history of the organization all year long for the media's use in your publications or broadcasts.

For more information on these events, please contact the SDNG Historian, CW5 Duke Doering at (605) 737-6581, or e-mail

On this date in SDNG history:

March 20, 1952

On this date in SDNG history – Taylor Barracks, Mannheim, Germany: Members of the 109th Engineer Battalion were still sending search crews up and down the Rhine River in Germany in an effort to locate the body of Cpl. Herman Higgins. A few days earlier, members of Company B, of Hot Springs, were working on the Rhine River Bridge at Bruhl, Germany, when a cable snapped, and thrust Higgins into the river. The force ripped off his life jacket. The 109th Engineers had been activated on September 3, 1950, for federal service during the Korean War. Bridge engineer resources were needed in Germany as the Soviets were considered a threat to Europe during this period of the "Cold War." For that reason, the 109th Engineer Battalion, which had units in Rapid City, Lead, Hot Springs, and Sturgis, was sent to Germany. There were nine float bridges across the Rhine at that time. These bridges were entirely different than any they had seen before. Each of the nine float bridges were split in the center and anchored on each side of the Rhine. Using huge Brockway trucks on both sides of the Rhine, they would swing each bridge half to the center of the river. When the ends met, pins were inserted to hold the bridge half's together making a complete bridge. It was on one of these missions that Cpl. Higgins lost his life.

March 21, 1921

On this date in SDNG history – Rebirth of the SDNG: When the fighting was over in Europe after World War I, and the American Expeditionary Force had returned to the United States and discharged, the state of South Dakota was without an army. In 1921, the state was authorized to raise a regiment of field artillery and a battalion of engineers. The 147th Field Artillery, to carry on the fame of the World War I regiment, was organized under the command of Col. Boyd Wales. Lt. Col. Edwin Beckwith, who a few years later would be appointed as the adjutant general, was the executive officer. The 147th was authorized the horse-drawn, 75 mm guns. The engineer battalion was designated the 2nd Battalion, 136th Engineers, and was under the command of Lt. Col. Earle Lewis. The 136th was organized as the engineer element of the 34th Infantry Division. Guardsmen from Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota made up the 34th ID.

March 22, 2003

On this date in SDNG history – Iraq: The seven person advance detachment of the Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 109th Engineer Battalion, from Sturgis, readied their equipment this date for departure into Iraq early the next day. The United States had launched its attack on Saddam Hussein's Iraq on March 20, 2003.  Allied bombers and cruise missiles struck targets all over Iraq in what the Pentagon billed as a "shock and awe" campaign. When Lt. Col. Craig Johnson, Maj. Don Hollis, 1st Lt. Lew Weber, Sgt. 1st Class Mark McCarty, Spc. Derrick Westbrook, Spc. Bradley Limbo and Spc. Darren Smith crossed the border into Iraq on March 23, they were one of the first National Guard units to move into the newly created war zone. The 109th Engineers followed the 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, units that led the coalition ground attack into Iraq and on to Baghdad. Moving fast, they reached a point where the convoys were halted. They pulled up to the front of the Marine convoy that was stopped and were told they had to wait by a Marine road guard. Lt. Col. Johnson showed the orders from headquarter stating that they were to close on Tallil Air Base that evening. The Marines let them pass. It was late in the afternoon when they arrived at the gate to Tallil. The entry gate was flanked by two Bradley fighting vehicles. The air base had just been cleared of the enemy that day; smoke still billowed from some of the structures. It was on this same day that a convoy of the 507th Maintenance Company from Fort Bliss, Texas, which also was headed for Tallil, temporarily lost direction and mistakenly entered Nasiriyah, a city on the Euphrates River 10 miles north of Tallil. Here, they were engaged in a firefight which ended with the death of 11 soldiers and the capture of six others, including Pfc. Jessica Lynch, whose capture and subsequent return made news headlines worldwide.

March 23, 1971

On this date in SDNG history – Medal of Honor: Michael J. Fitzmaurice was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic efforts on this date. Fitzmaurice was serving as a specialist four in Troop D, 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, when during a firefight on March 23, 1971, in Khe Sanh, Republic of Vietnam, he smothered the blast of an enemy-thrown explosive charge with his flak vest and body to protect other soldiers. Seriously wounded, he continued to fight the enemy and refused medical evacuation. He survived his wounds and was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. A long time South Dakota National Guardsman, both Army and Air, Fitzmaurice enlisted in the 153rd Engineer Battalion and served for more than 10 years, March 10, 1973 until Sept. 12, 1983.  He then took an interstate transfer to Nevada. When he returned to South Dakota, Tech. Sgt. Michael J. Fitzmaurice Sr. enlisted in the South Dakota Air National Guard on Oct. 27, 1989. He was discharged from the 114th Civil Engineer Squadron on May 30, 1992. The state Soldiers Home at Hot Springs, was renamed in his honor on Oct. 3, 1998, the Michael J. Fitzmaurice Veterans Home.

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