South Dakotans, like all Americans who are old enough, remember the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It is like the Pearl Harbor or JFK assassination of this generation. Governor Noem has shared her memories as we reach the 20th anniversary of that day. I was in my first couple weeks of my freshman year at SDSU, and heard about it at the beginning of American Government class from Dr. Robert V. Burns, the longtime distinguished professor who mentioned it at the beginning of class. It wasn’t until I got back to the dorms that I learned about the second plane and realized it was terrorism (no smartphones in those days).
Unique to South Dakota, though, is the memory of Governor Bill Janklow’s reaction to 9/11. Janklow was a man of action and was famous for his quick reactions to disasters, such as the Grizzly Gulch fire or the Spencer tornado. And, even though the 9/11 attacks happened far away from South Dakota, Janklow’s reactions that day were true to form.
Quoting from the September 12, 2001 Argus Leader:
The state’s military units were placed on highest alert and Gov. Bill Janklow summoned law enforcement officials from South Dakota’s largest cities to Pierre to plot emergency strategies.
“This may be the end of it, but it also may be the beginning,” Janklow said. “We don’t know. We need to be prepared to move in a unified way. We also need to continue to go about our normal business. One of the objects of terrorism is to shut everything down.”
Janklow said he ordered increased security checks at Sioux Falls and Rapid City airports and placed state Highway Patrol and military police units on alert.
I particularly remember Janklow’s immediate concern about airport security:
The governor said he wasn’t concerned about a terrorist attack in South Dakota as much as with the state being a dispatch point, a place where an airplane could be hijacked, for example.
“Overseas you can see what airport security really is. You have people walking around in the terminals with submachine guns and automatic weapons across their shoulders. They don’t smile, there’s nothing cute about it, everyone’s real serious, and frankly, that’s the way it ought to be.”
Soon, there were troops with M-16 automatic rifles in South Dakota’s airports as well. Despite that, though, Janklow didn’t close state facilities:
“We must control ourselves and go about our daily business,” Janklow said. “They want to do what nuclear bombs can do, without the bombs… they’re not going to prevail.”
Janklow also defended Muslims against the immediate reaction of anger some felt against them:
“South Dakota believes in religious freedom,” Janklow said. “People have the right to worship in any way they want to. There is no room for intolerance or ridicule.”
Janklow’s father had been a litigator at the Nuremburg war tribunals in the aftermath of WWII, and one important way that Janklow signaled the need for normalcy was his immediate decision to go forward with the dedication ceremonies for South Dakota’s World War II memorial in Pierre, scheduled for Saturday, September 15, 2001. :
Gov. Bill Janklow said canceling the ceremony would amount to honoring the terrorists who attacked New York City and Washington, D.C., Tuesday. . . .
“I think now with the dastardly attack on America, we’ll have a lot more people here. I think this is a way for people to turn out and show they support democracy.”
The attacks did require some adjustment to the plans, however, as the Argus Leader reported on September 13:
The attacks forced the cancelation of scheduled appearances by the U.S. Army Marine Corps Band and the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team.
“The band is made up of combat-ready Marines, and they’re more likely on alert,” said Bob Mercer, a spokesman for Gov. Bill Janklow. “The 82nd Airborne Division is the primary unit of the Golden Knights, and they’re on full alert.”
Mercer said Janklow had planned to ride with one of the Golden Knights on a parachute jump on Friday.
In the days following the attacks, Janklow appointed his longtime aide Deb Bowman to oversee anti-terrorism efforts as the state’s first homeland security director. Bowman, a talented public servant whose background was in human services, would tell me later that she was often the only woman in attendance at national meetings of state anti-terror leaders held in the days following 9/11.