‘Thunder over Dakota’ documents Ellsworth Air Force Base history

2013-07-29T06:00:00Z 2013-07-29T07:41:21Z ‘Thunder over Dakota’ documents Ellsworth Air Force Base historyMolly Barari Journal correspondent Rapid City Journal
July 29, 2013 6:00 am  • 

A B-1B Lancer rumbles as it jets across the sky.

That’s why retired Lt. Col. George Larson named his new book, which documents the complete history of Ellsworth Air Force Base, “Thunder over Dakota.”

Larson touts the book as a comprehensive look at the history of the base just east of Rapid City.

“This is the only book to trace the entire history of Ellsworth Air Force Base since its establishment in 1941,” Larson said. “The base has been defending our country for over 70 years.”

Ellsworth began as Rapid City Army Air Base but was subsequently named after Brig. Gen. Richard Ellsworth, who was known for flying 400 missions in Asia during World War II. Ellsworth died in 1953 when his Convair B-36 Peacemaker aircraft crashed during a training flight.

In early 1942, the U.S. War Department designated the base as a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber training location. In his book, Larson highlights Ellsworth’s relationship with various aircraft throughout the years. He discusses B-17s, Boeing B-29 Superfortresses, Convair B-36 Peacemakers, Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses, Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers and B-1B Lancers.

The B-1B Lancer is flown by the 28th Bomb Wing, Ellsworth’s current host unit. 

“The 28th Bomb Wing is so special because it is one of only two B-1B strategic bomber wings in the U.S. Air Force,” Larson said. The other is the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.

The 320-page, 4-pound hardcover book, which features 525 photographs, will be released through Schiffer Publishing on Aug. 28. The book will sell for $49.99 at Ellsworth Air Force Base’s gift shop. It will also be available at amazon.com and schifferbooks.com.

Larson said the book is also about South Dakota's role in national defense.

“Through the book, I want to show people how important South Dakota has been to the defense of the United States, through World War II, Korea, Vietnam and now the global war on terror,” he said. “People in service are trained to protect. They don’t take the military as a career. They take it as a calling.”

Larson was commissioned in 1969 as an Air Force second lieutenant. Throughout his military career, he worked with Strategic Air Command, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Military Command Center, Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps as an instructor. He retired in 1992.

When Larson moved to Rapid City in 1994, he began writing articles about Ellsworth Air Force Base. He has worked primarily with base historian Paul Marcello.

“Thunder over Dakota” took four years to research and write. In addition to Ellsworth sources, he obtained information and photographs from South Dakota’s Air and Space Museum; Nebraska’s Strategic Air & Space Museum; Sen. John Thune’s office; and Air Force sources at the Pentagon. Larson also included many personal photographs.

His involvement in the Black Hills Veterans Writing Group has helped him collect personal stories from veterans.

“I love talking with them and telling their stories. So much of history is being lost, but writing down the stories allows us to pass them to future generations,” Larson said.

In all, Larson has written five books and more than 300 magazine articles on military history, aviation, naval and general history.

When he’s not writing, Larson offers free Powerpoint presentations on the history of Ellsworth for community organizations. He is active in V.F.W. Post 1273; president of Chapel Valley Association and serves as an auxiliary police officer during parades.

Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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