Buffalo Chip raises flags to honor active, retired, or fallen service men and women
The flags will be flying for anyone to visit and pay their respects until the end of the Sturgis Rally.
STURGIS, S.D. — The U.S. flag can mean something different for everyone, but it still brings people together.
Young and old came together to help put up 801 U.S. flags on display as a tribute to all service men and women — past and present — on Freedom Field at Buffalo Chip in a celebration that has run for nearly 20 years.
For South Dakota Army National Guard Veteran and Meade County Sheriff Elect Pat West, it was the first time he was able to be at the flag raising event.
“I’ve worked the rally for several years and this is always during the time frame when I’m preparing for the rally. So, a lot of times, I’m not able to get out here. But wow, being out here at this event is absolutely incredible,” He said. “It’s an emotional time for some people. But definitely something that is very important. And honoring these veterans, honoring these people that have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country, our freedom — it is pretty special.”
West says it is important to honor those who fought for our country and who are currently in the military, which includes two of his sons.
“I’ve got two boys that are currently serving in the military, both attending the United States Naval Academy, and being a part of that and a part of what they signed up to be makes me look at the flag way different,” West said. “I’ve always respected the flag. I’ve always honored the flag. But now I’ve seen it in a perspective of a parent having their children serve in the military. That flag represents a lot and it represents a lot to different people.”
A flag protocol started off the event, telling volunteers things like not letting the flag touch the ground. The crowd then moved to the first pile of flags to get one and then followed the line to place it on one of the posts.
The ceremony was established to honor the soldiers that had fallen during the Iraq War; one flag representing one American lost. But the count became too high and there wasn’t enough room to expand.
Now the display is for all service men and women — including active, retired or fallen.
Out of respect for all those people, they [volunteers] come out and they help get the flags ready, get flagpoles ready, make sure everything’s going to work, make sure we can get this thing pulled off in a nice, smooth manner. You go around and you ask these folks that are here, and they’ll tell you they’ve been touched by this event one way or another, and they don’t forget it and they come back,” Rob Woodruff, president of the Buffalo Chip Campground, said. “You’re touching people’s lives in a nice, positive way that is very patriotic. It’s good for this county and everybody need a little bit of lift and more belief in, you know, the American dream.”
After the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem, a bell was rang six times to honor all of the U.S. Military Branches — including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Space Force.
“I started thinking a little bit about the flag — what we’re out here for,” West said during his speech. “What does the flag mean to me? It means a lot of different things to people. It brings back a lot of memories. You start thinking about this flag — those that served this county.”
The flags will remain standing until the Sturgis Rally ends, allowing time for people to visits and pay tribute. There will also be an 80% replica of the Vietnam Wall, which will be put up August 2.
There is also an Annual Freedom Celebration on Thursday, August 11, that will have a Star-Spangled Banner Performance and the Bob Hanson Distinguished Service Award Presentation. Then there will be a performance from Jon Pardi at Buffalo Chip CrossRoads and Amphitheater.
“The reason we have that freedom celebration during the rally on Thursday is because probably in 2004, at seven in the morning, these lieutenants showed up in their uniforms and looking for a couple of campers that were here because their son had been killed in Iraq the night before,” Woodruff said. “There was an active duty general and some active duty troops that had their uniforms and their gear, and right there, we had a little ceremony with those guys. That’ll change your life. So, we’re pretty set on continuing to do this thing.”
For more information on the field of flags or the campground, you can visit Buffalo Chip’s website.