SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — On Saturday, people will gather at the Battleship Memorial in Sioux Falls in honor of a naval milestone. The event will commemorate the 80th anniversary of the commissioning of the USS South Dakota, one of the most decorated battleships of World War II.

In a landlocked state like South Dakota, there is always a flood of questions from visitors to the Battleship Memorial about this concrete curiosity in the heart of Sioux Falls.

“They ask so many questions. First one is, is the concrete outline outside, is that the real size of the ship? And the answer is, yes. And it’s oh, that’s big,” Harry Engberg of the Battleship Memorial Museum said.

Each year, this large landmark attracts visitors from across the United States, but fewer people have stopped by this summer.

“I just think it’s the fuel prices and the cost of travel, because last year was one of our best years, and this year is going to be one of our worst,” Engberg said.

But attendance will get a boost on Saturday when a ceremony at the memorial honors the commissioning of the USS South Dakota in 1942.

“It’s really significant that it’s been 80 years since this ship was commissioned and joined the Navy and went off to fight World War II,” Diane Diekman of the Battleship South Dakota Memorial Foundation said.

The South Dakota and its crew saw action in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters of the war, earning 13 battle stars. It was given the code name “Battleship X” to keep its identity secret because enemy forces thought they had sunk the ship, only to have the South Dakota help lead the way to an Allied victory.

“The South Dakota supported carrier strikes throughout the last year of the war in Okinawa and the Philippines and all those invasions, the battleships were there bombing the shore,” Diekman said.

The crew members aboard the South Dakota forged close bonds among each other as well as to the ship itself.

“One of the sailors who joined the South Dakota thought he had been assigned the South Dakota because he was from South Dakota. And he didn’t realize until much later that he was a bit too insignificant for that to have made a difference, but he was happy to be on his home state battleship,” Diekman said.

Reunions here at the Battleship Memorial used to take place every year. But as the decades went by, those reunions became more spread out: at first, every two years, and now every three years, because so few of the original crew members are still alive.

“We used to have 300-400 at a reunion and of course, that was 40 years ago, 50 years ago, and now we’re down to a handful,” Karen Dunham of the Battleship South Dakota Memorial Foundation said.

The surviving crewmen of the South Dakota have been invited to Saturday’s ceremony, but few are expected to make it.

“They’re all 96 or better and so their ability to travel is not as good as it used to be, even though they all want to be here,” Dunham said.

The South Dakota crewmen would always share their war stories with the public during previous reunions. But as their ranks thin even more in the coming years, it becomes all the more important for the Battleship Memorial and Museum to be that permanent connection to the past: showcasing displays and artifacts so future generations of visitors can still encounter members of the Greatest Generation.

The public is invited to attend Saturday’s ceremony which starts at 10 a.m. at the Battleship Memorial. Former South Dakota Lieutenant Governor Matt Michels will be the master of ceremonies. Author and historian Paul Stillwell will be signing copies of his books about the USS South Dakota.

If you can’t make it to the ceremony, the battleship’s museum is open every day through September.