SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — World War II veterans were among the crowd which gathered Saturday morning for the 80th anniversary of the USS South Dakota’s commissioning.

The USS South Dakota was commissioned in 1942. Crew member Leon Gee served in WWII as a radar man on the battleship.

“After the Japanese surrendered, the battleship South Dakota, we just milled around for two days outside Tokyo Bay,” Gee said.

The 96-year-old Gee says he is happy to be attending the event.

“I just think I am- at my age, I’m fortunate to be able to travel back here, see friends that I have made here over the number of years. I have been coming here since – about 1990,” Gee said.

Another WWII veteran at the event was Douglas Starr, who served elsewhere as a sonar operator.

“There was 500 ships in the fleet, and we were the screen. This ship (USS South Dakota) was part of the VAN. There was battleships and cruisers, and the aircraft carriers who went in,” Starr said.

Starr’s destroyer was one of South Dakota’s protectors.

“We didn’t think anything of it, it was our duty you know, and so we did what we had to do and it was easy,” Starr said.

Both men tell me it’s great to see the community gathering in appreciation of this piece of South Dakota’s history.

“I’d like to thank everybody for coming out, it’s kind of fantastic,” Gee said.

KELOLAND’s Perry Groten has reported on the USS South Dakota recently, too; you can find his reports here and here.