Veterans memorial in South Dakota repurposes former military chopper

Watertown, SD

The Watertown Veterans Memorial in Watertown, S.D., began as an idea two vets scribbled on a napkin in a local coffee shop, and came to fruition in 2006. It includes veterans from all conflicts from the Civil War through the present — with about 2,700 names, from 38 different states, already engraved on its granite wall and a plan to add more.

The inscriptions list years served and branch of service alongside the names without a rank.

"We treat them all alike," said Ordean Bierman, memorial treasurer. For $125 and with proof of service and honorable discharge, names can be added.

Like many memorials, flags fly above. A metal globe sits nearby.

But a unique object also greets visitors: A decommissioned Vietnam helicopter was dedicated as part of the memorial on May 17, 2014.

"One guy was in the Navy. He wanted an aircraft carrier, but I think he was a little out of line there," Bierman joked.

After cutting through much red tape, they selected the AH-1F Bell Cobra from the Department of Natural Resources in Washington. It's on loan from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. The National Guard transported the helicopter from Washington to South Dakota as a training exercise in 2011.

A local college welded a gun turret and three-gun barrel to outfit it. Some members of the memorial's board made rocket pods for the wings from heating ducts.

“We've had funeral ceremonies out there, memorial ceremonies out there, a veterans and first responders ceremony out there. It's being used quite a bit and that's good. That's what we want to do," Bierman said.

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