U.S.S. South Dakota
On June 7, 1941, Vera Bushfield, wife of the governor of South Dakota, smashed a bottle of champagne against the towering bow of a new battleship and proudly proclaimed, "I christen thee South Dakota!" While an 80 piece band from Sioux Falls' Washington High School played "Anchors Away" and "The Star Spangled Banner," the huge hull of the battleship slowly slid into the Delaware River at Camden, New Jersey. The U.S.S. South Dakota was longer than two football fields, cost almost $73 million, and would weigh 35,000 tons. After a year of fitting out, commissioning, and rigorous training of a green crew, the ship was ordered to the Pacific war zone.
The heavily armed but untested South Dakota mounted more than 100 antiaircraft guns. Her first engagement with Japanese planes occurred during the Battle of Santa Cruz on October 26, 1942. Even though her gunners shot down 20 of the first wave of raiding enemy planes, in a later attack, one plane eluded antiaircraft fire and hit the South Dakota with a 500 pound bomb. Gunner's Mate Hubert P. Chatelain was her first battle fatality, and Captain Thomas L. Gatch was critically wounded by shrapnel. However, the carrier Enterprise was protected and saved because of the efforts of the South Dakota and her baptism in battle was a stunning success.
The ship participated in the Battle of Guadalcanal, a night action off Savo Island, on November 13-14, 1942. This was one of only two Japanese battleship against American battleship duels in World War II. In the ferocious fighting, 34 torpedoes were fired at the South Dakota and another U.S. battlewagon [the U.S.S. Washington]
, but all missed. Although she held her own, U.S.S. South Dakota took a pummeling, suffering 27 major shell hits; 38 crew members were killed in the encounter and were buried at sea. For security reasons, and because the Japanese believed they had sunk her, the Navy gave the hot shooting battleship the code name "Battleship X."
In 1943 the South Dakota joined the British Home Fleet in convoy duty. They also attempted to lure the German battleship Tirpitz from a Norwegian fjord but without success. After she returned to the Pacific Theater later that year, her massive 16-inch guns fired one-ton projectiles to bombard enemy territory in nine separate operations, including the first time that the Japanese homeland was shelled. By the end of the war, the South Dakota had steamed 246,970 miles, destroy 64 enemy planes, and was awarded 13 Battle Stars.
Vera Bushfield who had christened the ship 26 years earlier, was in attendance at the dedication of this memorial on September 7, 1969, to hear speaker Vice Admiral Bernard Roeder declare, "This grand memorial shall stand in quiet tribute to a man-o-war, a Navy fighting ship that did its best for her country."