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Vern Sheppard speaks during a meeting of the veterans writers at the Rapid City Public Library on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010. (Ryan Soderlin/Journal staff)

For members of the Black Hills Veterans Writing Group, there’s no time like the present for military veterans to preserve their memories of past service. “Our meetings represent the act of coming together and speaking as a way of recollecting, sometimes jogging memories,” said Brad Morgan, co-founder of the group.

Morgan, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam war era, joked that he got most of his combat experience “at the University of California/Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement,” before his military career. Co-founder of the writing group, Dean Muehlberg, also a Vietnam veteran, said that common interests in history prompted the two to form the group in 2005.  “We wanted to help veterans record their memories of their military service to keep those things from being lost,” he said. 

The group meets monthly at the Rapid City Public Library. 

A speaker is featured at each meeting, and Saturday’s guest was longtime area broadcaster Verne Sheppard. Sheppard served in the Pacific and the Far East as a radio operator in the Air Transport Command from 1944-1946, and his service aboard a C-54 took him to battle zones such as Guam, China, and Japan. Sheppard entered the Army Air Corps in 1944, after graduating from high school. “I got my education in the Pacific,” he said.

Morgan and Muehlberg said it’s speakers like Sheppard that encourage feedback among members of the group, and facilitate discussion and expression through writing. 

“I think that through this group, we’re keeping military history alive,” said Muehlberg, who has written and published his own memoir of his service in Southeast Asia, “REMF ‘War Stories’: 17th CAG -– Nha Trang, Vietnam -– 1969.”

“I feel good having it written down,” Muehlberg said. “It’s there for posterity.”

Morgan said that memoirs are not the only ways veterans can preserve the memories of their service. “Poetry, novels, short stories, there are numerous ways to do it,” he said. “An occasional letter to the editor, a post on our website, an email telling a story that shouldn’t be forgotten -- those are all ways of putting those ideas out there, and encouraging others to do the same.”

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Morgan said that there are three main components of the Black Hills Veterans Writing Group: reading, writing, and discussing. “Writing is definitely an important part of our mission,” he said, “but we talk a lot about books too, and encourage people to read the memoirs of others.”

Muehlberg agreed. “They read what someone else has to say, and it occurs to them that they have something to add to the discussion, a memory to preserve. There’s a need in Rapid City to hear this kind of a story.”

Although the group’s members all have some type of military service in common, the diversity they bring to the discussions is far-reaching.  Members have experience from World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have served all over the world, including Africa, England, the Mediterranean, Europe, Germany, Southeast Asia, the Aleutian Islands, the Philippines, and the Middle East. One person at Saturday’s meeting was in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001; another is an airman currently stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base. 

As Sheppard put it, they are rich in information that needs to be chronicled. 

“You’re a wealth of information,” he said, “the miles you’ve put in on land, in the water, and in the air. Your stories should be told.”

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