Last August 25, area residents lined the highway, showing respect as Hand County law and emergency personnel escorted the body of Specialist Dennis Gregory Jensen through the county, on its way to Sturgis. The 21-year-old soldier was killed August 16 in a non-combat accident while deployed to Afghanistan with the 200th Engineer Company, Pierre.
This year, August 15 and 16 at Whitewood, veterans’ appreciation activities will be held August 15, and a Memorial Ride in honor of SPC Jensen will be held the 16th, the anniversary of his death.
Jensen’s mother, Christine Bestgen of Lead, had been instrumental in planning many of the activities. She hopes people living or vacationing in the Hills area will make the trip to Whitewood (seven miles from Sturgis) for the event.
The two-day Whitewood event falls between the Sturgis Rally, which ends August 14, and Kool Deadwood Nites, which begin August 23.
Bestgen has been involved a tree-planting project in honor of her son. “I said I didn’t want bouquets of flowers at his funeral,” she explained. “Memorials we received have gone toward the tree-planting project.”
Trees have been planted at Pierre, Chamberlain, DeSmet and Madison, where there are Guard units; Vermillion, where Jensen graduated from high school; Tyndall, where the family lived for several years; Yankton, where Jensen’s father lives; Alcester, where the Jensen family live; and Lead, where Bestgen.
The final tree will be planted August 16 at sunset at the Devils Tower KOA campground, in honor of Jensen and Matt Driskill, who was owner of the KOA, and who died last August 3 in a septic tank accident.
Bestgen said the “first annual” Veterans’ Appreciation on August 15 will feature several events. Beginning at noon, Fallen Heroes banners will be on display at Hale Hall in Whitewood.
Bestgen explains, “Since 9-11, 40 South Dakota people in the military have been killed. There are now 35 traveling banners, honoring those who have died. They will be displayed in Whitewood August 4 through the 20th.”
An ice cream social is set for noon at the Bullwackers Saloon, and activities in the park, for all ages, begin at 2 p.m. A spaghetti feed will begin at 4 p.m. Live music will be featured on Main Street, beginning at 5 p.m.
The day will conclude with a bonfire at 11 p.m. at the Iron Horse Inn.
The Memorial Ride will be held Thursday, Aug. 16, in honor of Jensen, as well as the Patriot Guard Riders, Legion Riders and Rolling Thunder.
Bestgen said that anyone is welcome to participate…vehicles as well as motorcycles. Registration will begin at the Iron Horse Inn at 6 a.m., and a pancake feed will also take place at that time.
Participants in the ride can pre-register at www.ironhorseinnsturgis.com.
“We had originally thought maybe 300 to 400 people might participate in the ride, but now we’re told there could be 3,000 to 4,000 people,” Bestgen said. “The opening ceremony will be at 8:30 a.m. in downtown Whitewood, but riders will depart every 10 minutes in groups of 50.”
The ride will go through Aladdin and Hulett, Wyoming, and will end at Devils Tower KOA, where there will be a barbecue until all are served. The tree planting will be held at sunset.
Bestgen says all fundraising proceeds will benefit the Fallen Heroes Banner project, and also the Women of War project.
The Women of War project is to aid homeless female veterans and their children. A site for the project is at Belle Fourche. It opened last October, and started with room for 28 women in residence.
Bestgen said she is trying to compile photos anyone may have taken of the motorcade last year that carried Jensen’s body from Yankton, through Madison, Miller, Pierre and to its final resting place in Sturgis.
“Our family was absolutely blown away by the support from the communities that day, when we came through,” said Bestgen. “We will never forget the amount of patriotism displayed, and especially from the community of Miller.”