USS South Dakota Vets: An Endangered Group
by Jeff Rusack, Reporter
June 29, 2013 5:36 PM
Nearly 68 years ago World War II ended. The most decorated battleship during the fight was the USS South Dakota. And every two years the sailors who called that boat home come to Sioux Falls to be honored.
The guns and the mast once belonged to one of the finest ships on the sea. Artifacts from the USS South Dakota will grace a plot of land in Sioux Falls for generations and serve as a reminder of what was needed to protect America's freedoms. But, something that won't be around forever is the sailors who fought on the South Dakota in World War II.
“Each year there are fewer and fewer sailors but there are 11 of the ones still living who are here, today,” said Diane Diekman, a retired Captain of the US Navy.
One of those 11 is Leon Gee, who operated the radar system.
“This kind of looks like the last one we could have. I don't know,” said Gee.
The stories these 11 have of the war easily outnumber the flags that grace the edge of the monument.
“Originally, when the war was over the treaty was going to be signed aboard the South Dakota. But, since Truman happened to be from Missouri so, they signed the treaty on the Missouri. We were anchored right next to them and we could watch it from our deck,” recalled Gee.
Family and friends of the sailors come together every two years. But, this unique brotherhood is shrinking.
“62 have died in the past two years since the last reunion,” said Diekman.
“It's pretty sad. In fact, this last year one of my buddies that was in the same division that I knew really well, passed away. He was here two years ago. Now he's gone,” said Gee.
The battles fought by these men are remembered in Sioux Falls, as 11 sailors are honored for their service.