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RUSH REMEMBER THE DAY OF DAYS WITH D-DAY SPECIALTY UNIFORMS FOR MILITARY NIGHT

Thursday, March 28th
RUSH REMEMBER THE DAY OF DAYS WITH D-DAY SPECIALTY UNIFORMS FOR MILITARY NIGHT

Utah. Omaha. Gold. Juno. Sword.

A western state, a midwestern city, a precious metal, a name, and a weapon. That's all the list was just 80 years ago. However, June 6, 1944, etched these five words into world history forever.

As the Allied Forces labeled these five locations in Normandy, France, for the largest amphibian invasion in military history, the five beaches became synonymous with D-Day.

In the modern era, the invasion has been studied and researched as one of the most successful operations in world history. However, it is also not forgotten the supreme sacrifice that many heroes made on that day.

With Military Appreciation Night approaching on Saturday, March 30, the Rapid City Rush teamed with local artist Aaron Pearcy to create a specialty jersey that honors the 80th anniversary of D-Day and celebrates the proud history of military service in South Dakota and the nation.

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This season's jerseys honor the 80th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The jersey depicts scenes of soldiers storming the beaches on June 6, 1944.

"There are so many major military anniversaries that happen every year," said Rush Vice President of Business Development Kayleigh Schmidt. "However, we heard from a few military organizations that we work with that basing our jerseys around the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings would be unique."

Of all Rush staff members, Schmidt has lived in South Dakota the longest, after her mom was stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base and later retired. She has been a forerunner in planning this Military Appreciation Night as she has for the last handful of seasons, knowing how much this game means to the area. She also tabbed Pearcy to tackle this season's specialty jersey.

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Detail of a World War II-era aircraft on the jersey.

"It was a fun challenge," said Pearcy, who operates under the pseudonym Amp. "Being tasked to find the right mix of honoring the military, shining light on this moment, and still being able to put it on a jersey that's wearable was a lot of fun."

A lifelong artist, Amp is known for his graffiti art and downtown Rapid City murals. He is also a local tattoo artist, possessing multiple talents in art and design.

"It's always something I've loved to do," admitted Pearcy.

The Rush organization has prided itself on Military Appreciation jerseys since the first military-recognizing game in its inaugural season. The Rush has honored individual military operations including Doolittle's Raid to modern warfare solutions on their uniforms.

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Detail of a wave of soldiers storming the beaches at Normandy. This image is on the lower portion of the jersey.

Last year, the Rush won Specialty Jersey of the Year at the ECHL League Awards in Las Vegas for their military jerseys featuring call signs from the 34th and 37th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base.

"It's a lot to live up to, but I hope I can help [the Rush] go back-to-back for that award," said Pearcy.

This season's jersey is a call back to the "day of days." It features the iconic scenes of soldiers storming the beaches and paratroopers dropping into Normandy during the Allied invasion of France. There are bullet holes to depict how much gunfire these troops took and, of course, the barbed wire found in the trenches.

Long-time Rush season ticket holder Paul Priest didn't land on the beaches of Normandy, but he fought in Germany through the end of the war. His 9th Armored Division destroyed the Ludendorff Bridge in the Battle of Remagen. Priest, recently 98, is the only remaining American veteran alive from the battle.

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Paul Priest in 1942 as an 18-year-old soldier. Priest was among the first to cross the Ludendorff Bridge into enemy territory at Remagen.

A native of Flint, Michigan, Priest returned home after the war and moved to Deadwood with his wife Joan. While Joan passed away in 2019, Priest has plans to return to Europe for the 80th Anniversary D-Day celebration.

"It'll be good to go to Normandy," said Priest. "I'm the only one left from my division, and they told me I'd be the oldest one going on the trip with this group." 

"Capturing all of that and getting onto a jersey is hard," said Pearcy. "But I was excited to tackle the project because it is a big deal here and being the anniversary and all made it even more exciting."

Ellsworth Air Force Base in nearby Box Elder. It was established in 1941 and opened its runways and control towers in 1942. The base first hosted the 17th Bombardment Training Wing and was a training ground for the B-17 Flying Fortress. The B-17 was used heavily by the Eighth Air Force during the Second World War, and "The Mighty Eighth" proudly contains today's Ellsworth host wing, the 28th Bomb Wing.

Once again, the threads this season bear much meaning to veterans in the Black Hills both past and present. "It's such an easy way for us to show our appreciation and gratitude to those who serve in a creative format," said Schmidt.

"It wasn't enough for me to just throw a picture on there and call it good," said Pearcy. "I wanted to make it colder, and kind of fit the cold hockey theme, so I was going for that icy look and feel with it too."

These jerseys will be auctioned off after the game on Saturday with a portion of the proceeds going to the Combat Veteran Motorcycle Association. Last year, the Rush raised over $58,000 from the jersey auction alone. 

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The Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association will receive a portion of the jersey auction proceeds. Their motto is "vets helping vets."

For the Rush organization, this game isn't just one more promotional night; it's larger. Between programs to donate tickets to active duty soldiers and partnering with the Air Force and the South Dakota Army National Guard, this game rallies the Rapid City community together.

"We're lucky to have so many businesses and organizations come in on this night to make it possible and to help us find as many amazing human beings as we can and share their stories," said Schmidt.

Tickets for Military Appreciation Night are available at rapidcityrush.com. The game closes out a six-game homestand but stands as a monumental game to honor our heroes regardless of where it falls in the season. While the large American flag, honoring individuals during the hero of the game segment, and seeing military vehicles on the ice during chuck-a-puck remain fan favorites, when it comes to Military Appreciation Night with the Rush, there's always more in store.

"It's hard to fit everything into one night, but we definitely do our best to showcase different branches and individuals," said Schmidt. "It's easy to do the same thing every year, but in my opinion, that's not as fun."

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