SPEARFISH — A collection of Spearfish history will soon be gifted back to the area.
The U.S. Army Air Force 93rd College Training Detachment (CTD) was stationed at Black Hills Teachers College (now Black Hills State University) from March 1943 to May 1944, and thanks to the generosity of the son of the late Neil L. King, who served as the adjutant and later the commanding officer of the 93rd CTD, various artifacts and historical accounts of the detachment are returning to the site.
“Fortunately for me, and for a lot of people now it seems, he saved everything,” Terry Neil King, of Barrington, Ill., said of his father, describing the newspaper clippings and photo album filled with the work of the late Joseph Fassbender that detail the images not only of the 93rd CTD but also of the campus, Spearfish, and the local area during the time. King’s father also saved documents and wrote a history of the detachment.
“The photographs fascinated me,” King said, describing that he grew up looking at the photos and learning the history of his father’s time in Spearfish. In 2005, he started developing more of an interest in his family genealogy, and he got to thinking about what would happen to the collection if something happened to him. He and his wife, Kathy, do not have children, and no one else in the family is as interested in the material, so King began the quest to find someone or somewhere that would be interested in keeping it. He searched online for any information the 93rd CTD and the training program in general, and though he was unsuccessful finding anything about the 93rd specifically, he found a lot of information about other CTD programs at other locations around the country.
King then searched the BHSU website, finding only one paragraph about the events that took place on campus during World War II, and he decided to travel to Spearfish in 2015 to find someone on campus to show the material. He visited the late Roberta Sago, special collections librarian and archivist at the Leland D. Case Library for Western Historical Studies at BHSU, who told King the university would love to have the collection, as it details a very under-documented period of history, not only for the university, but also for Spearfish. Sago recommended talking to Paul Higbee, local author and historian, and King got in touch with him.
Eventually, they met on King’s next visit to Spearfish, and the two began working together to put together a presentation for the Spearfish Area Historical Society, which takes place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Spearfish Senior Center. Higbee also offered to write up the history, and they expect to share the collection in other ways as people become aware of it.
Higbee, of Spearfish, described that Sago’s unexpected passing earlier this month “cast a pall over what should have been an entirely happy presentation next week.
“She was the first contact Terry made in Spearfish and was truly excited about Terry’s photos and records,” Higbee said, adding that he was able to come aboard and put some of the materials into local context, such as locations of photos and information about the photographer, Joseph Fassbender, and background about Clyde Ice and Black Hills Teachers College faculty who were important to the project. They include Russell Jonas, Lavina Humbert, Grace Balloch, and many others.
“I also set up a meeting in Pierre with the South Dakota State Historical Society, where staff confirmed this to be a key piece of South Dakota history,” Higbee said. “The college training detachments were vitally important to the nation’s development of air power in World War II, and thanks to Terry’s dad and Terry himself, the story of the 93rd CTD is among the best documented.”
King explained that the CTD was a program that was started in early 1943, after the U.S. military realized it did not have the personnel or facilities required to educate and train the numbers of qualified pilots, navigators, and bombardiers it needed in the short timeframe it had to win the air war in World War II. As a result, it contracted with 150 colleges and universities to conduct five-month education and training courses for the Army Air Force.
During the program, college faculty would teach math, physics, history, geography, and English, King described, and Army Air Force personnel would provide military indoctrination and training, with local civilian pilots providing basic flying instruction for the aviation cadets. At the end of the five months, cadets would continue on to other Army Air Force facilities for advanced flying instruction before they were given their wings, commissioned as second lieutenants, and likely sent overseas to fight the war.
In February 1943, Black Hills Teachers College became part of the program, and the first contingent of 250 aviation cadets arrived on campus in March 1943.
King’s father was one of four officers in charge of the program that operated until May 1944, when the program was terminated at all colleges across the country, since the events of the war had turned in the Allies’ favor. Thanks to the program, King said, there were now sufficient numbers of air crew members that were trained, so there was no further need to carry on with the program. Over the course of the program, more than 1,000 cadets were stationed, educated, and trained with the 93rd CTD in Spearfish.
King said that Black Hills Teachers College was the only institution in South Dakota to participate in the program, and according to what he’s heard, it was rather fortuitous that the program came along when it did: Because of the war, a number of students had been drafted, and enrollment had dropped from around 400 to around 150 students at the college in 1943.
King explained that his father, born and raised in Denver, was a banker by profession who enlisted in the Army Air Force in early 1942. He went through officer candidate school, becoming a second lieutenant, and one of his first assignments in Spearfish as an adjutant, the number two in charge of the 93rd CTD. When the commanding officer was transferred in 1944, King’s father served in the position through May.
It was during his father’s time in Spearfish that he met and married King’s mother, Joan Sunderland, whose father was a local businessman, running the Sunderland Meat Market on Main Street.
After the program ended, King’s father was sent overseas, serving in the Pacific through the end of the war, when he returned to the United States aboard the U.S.S. Gosper in January 1946 and was discharged from active duty on April 22, 1946, at the rank of captain. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service from March to August 1945 in Leyte, Philippines. He served as a reserve officer and was officially discharged on May 20, 1955.
He resumed his career at First National Bank of Denver, where he was a vice present of several departments, and he worked at the bank for almost 50 years, retiring in September 1975. He was happily married to Joan, with two children and one grandchild, until his death on Nov. 22, 1983.
King remembers being fascinated as a child, looking through the photographs, news clippings, and historical records of the CTD program that his father kept.
“It’s fortunate that he kept all this … I think they’re the only ones around,” he said of many of the photographs and artifacts in the collection, adding that it will be difficult to give it up. However, “… rather than keeping it stored in a closet or an attic here, a thousand miles away, it belongs at the college. That’s where all this happened,” he said.
King knows that the material will be kept and maintained at BHSU.
“I want it to be archived, so it will be hard to part with it, but I realize that it has to be done, and I want it to be done,” he said.
He added that he was also able to have all of the photographs and documents scanned by Kenny Putnam, so he is able to keep digital copies of the collection even after he officially gifts his father’s collection to BHSU.
King and Higbee will present “When BHSU Became a WWII Training Ground” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Spearfish Senior Citizen Center, the monthly presentation for the Spearfish Area Historical Society. The public is encouraged to attend.
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