Last week a couple of my sons and I visited the Battleship South Dakota Memorial in Sioux Falls, SD (12th & Kiwanis Ave.). This state treasure is both a memorial and museum that showcases the WWII-era USS South Dakota (BB 57).
The ship was launched in June 1941, but still under construction when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. However, in August 1942, the battleship headed out to the South Pacific and was in battle within a couple of months.
During it’s WWII service, most of which was in the Pacific Theater, the USS South Dakota and it’s sailors were in so many battles and performed so well that it earned the most medals and awards of any other WWII American battleships.
The USS South Dakota was decommissioned after the war, and in the 1960s set for the scrapyard. But, a group of South Dakotans worked to save the ship. Although they weren’t able to save the whole thing, they were able to obtain parts of the ship that became the backbone for the memorial/museum in Sioux Falls. The museum also holds many photographs and mementoes donated by the ship’s sailors.
If you get a chance to go to the museum, watch the video which gives a good overview of the battleship and the memorial. And walk around the concrete outline of the ship to see some of her key pieces, like the mast, anchor, and one of her 16-inch guns.
Interesting facts about the USS South Dakota:
- The Sioux Falls, SD, Washington High School band performed at the June 7, 1941, launching ceremony in New Jersey.
- The USS South Dakota was also known as Battleship X, Old Nameless, and Sodak.
- Twelve-year-old Calvin Graham, the youngest medal-earning service member of WWII, served on the Sodak. As late as WWII, it was still fairly common for underage kids to lie about their age and join the military. There may have been more than 1,000 underage kids in the service.
- Ninety-five men died in action.
- The ship hosted multiple sports teams, including its own baseball team.
- The Sodak was the first American battleship to bombard a main Japanese island (July 14, 1945).
- The Sodak had several Kingfisher aircraft that were used for scouting and sea rescues. Since there was no runway for the Kingfishers to take off from, these planes were catapulted off the ship’s stern.
- The model of the ship was built as a type of prototype in the 1930s, before construction on the actual ship began.
For more info:
Since we’ve just celebrated America’s Independence Day, here’s a big shout-out to all those men and women who have served and died for our country, and especially to the men from the USS South Dakota!
What WWII memorials have you visited?