Located in the center of South Dakota along the Missouri River, Pierre is the second-smallest state capital (by population), but the city’s collection of sculptures dedicated to the United States Armed Forces is truly impressive. A plaza between the Capitol Building and Capitol Lake contains a somber and impressive reminder of military sacrifices throughout history. Six full-sized bronze figures stand at attention at the World War II Memorial, each representing a branch of service in which South Dakotans served during WWII.
Just a few steps away stands a full-sized sculpture of an American GI in the Korean War. The plaza also features the Vietnam War Memorial, where a full-sized statue of an American soldier stands proud while an American Eagle statue flies above to honor the Native American contribution to the US Armed Forces. There are also two sections of granite panels memorializing South Dakotan casualties during the Korean and Vietnam Wars while panels honoring the state’s firefighters and first responders. The combination is a beautiful and powerful reminder of human bravery and sacrifice captured in sculpted stone.
But those aren’t the only statues to behold in Pierre. Just south of the memorials is the Fighting Stallions Memorial, a tribute to eight South Dakotans—including Gov. George Mickelson—who died in an airplane crash on April 19, 1993. The memorial is a larger bronze version of the original 1935 mahogany carving by Crazy Horse sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski.
As you stroll the Capitol grounds, be prepared to encounter sculptures of past South Dakota governors. They’re part of the Trail of Governors program, which has currently arranged for the creation of life-sized statues of 25 past governors. More can be found around the city’s business district, and the ultimate goal is to have every governor memorialized as a statue in Pierre.