Crew members remember USS South Dakota

Local News

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — A popular landmark in Sioux Falls reaches a military milestone this weekend. The public is invited to a ceremony on Saturday marking the 50th anniversary of the Battleship Memorial.

City and military leaders dedicated the Battleship Memorial, located in Sherman Park, back on September 7th, 1969. The memorial pays tribute to the sailors and Marines who served in the South Pacific on board the USS South Dakota. Five of the crew members are in Sioux Falls this weekend for the anniversary. We spoke to two of them Friday, about the famed battleship.

Visiting the USS South Dakota Memorial brings back waves of memories to those who served aboard the most decorated battleship of World War II.

“Pretty impressive. We had good equipment and good people at the time,” USS South Dakota Electronic Technician Wally Pratt said.

93-year-old Wally Pratt, who now lives in South Bend, Indiana, wanted to get into the war even before he graduated high school.

“One week after I turned 17, I decided I’m going to join the Navy,” Pratt said.

93-year-old Leon Gee of Sanger, CA had a tougher time joining the war effort.

“I tried to enlist and I was so small, they said you go home and drink a few milkshakes and come back and we’ll sign you up, Gee said.

Gee would track enemy aircraft as a radar operator on the USS South Dakota.

“On the radar, we’d pick them up two or three-hundred miles out, if they were flying high enough,” Gee said.

As the Battleship Memorial turns 50-years-old this weekend, the sailors who served on board look back on their military service with a matter-of-fact humility typical for members of The Greatest Generation.

“You get used to it and you do it. I was never scared, never got seasick, I liked what I was doing,” Pratt said.

“Maybe being that young, it didn’t really bother you, you didn’t think about it, I don’t think,” Gee said.

The crew members come from all across the country for these reunions. Their ranks get smaller and smaller with each get-together. But the Battleship Memorial, in the heart of Sioux Falls, will long pay tribute to the bravery of those who served.

“The best thing I ever did in my life was to join the Navy,” Pratt said.

Because of the threat of rain, Saturday’s ceremony has been moved indoors to Augustana University.

Find out where on campus the anniversary program will take place by going to Boredom Busters

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