USS South Dakota ARC-9 - History

USS South Dakota ARC-9 - History

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USS South Dakota ARC-9

South Dakota I

(Armored Cruiser No. 9: dp. 13,680; l. 503'11"; b.

69'7~; dr. 26'1~; s. 22 k.; cpl. 829; a. 4 8", 14 6~,18 3", 12 3-pdrs., 2 18" tt.; cl. Pennsylvania)

The first South Dakota (Armored Cruiser No. 9) was launched on 21 July 1904 by the Union Iron Works San Francisco, Calif., sponsored by Miss Grace Harreid; and commissioned on 27 January 1908, Capt. James T. Smith in command.

Assigned to the Armored Cruiser Squadron, Pacific Fleet, South Dakota cruised off the west coast of the United States through August 1908. On 24 August, she departed San Francisco for a cruise to Samoa and headed eastward in September to operate in Central and South American waters. In the autumn of 1909, she deployed westward with the Armored Cruiser Squadron. The force called at ports in the Admiralty Islands; the Philippines; Japan, and China, before returning to Honolulu on 31 January 1910.

In February, South Dakota joined Tennessee to form a Special Service Squadron which cruised off the Atlantic coast of South America and then returned to the Pacific late in the year.

Following operations along the Pacific coast during much of 1911, South Dakota began a cruise in December with the Armored Cruiser Squadron which took her from California to the Hawaiian Islands, the Marianas, the Philippines, and Japan. After returning to the west coast in August 1912, she participated in periodic squadron exercises until she was placed in reserve on 30 December 1913 at the Puget Sound Navy Yard.

Detached from the Reserve Force, Pacific Fleet, on 17 April 1914, South Dakota made a cruise southward into Mexican waters in June and another westward to the Hawaiian Islands in August. She returned to Bremerton on 14 September and reverted to reserve status on 28 September. She was the flagship of the Reserve Force Pacific Fleet, from 21 January 1915 until relieved by Milwaukee (Cruiser No. 21) on 5 February 1916. She remained in reduced commission through 1916; and on 5 April 1917, she was again placed in full commission.

Transferred to the Atlantic after the United States entered World War I, South Dakota departed Bremerton on 12 April. She joined Pittsburg, Pueblo, and Frederick at Colon, Panama, on 29 May 1917; thence proceeded to the South Atlantic for patrol duty operating from Brazilian ports. On 2 November 1918, she escorted troop convoys from the east coast to the mid Atlantic rendezvous point where British cruisers joined the convoy. Following the Armistice, South Dakota made two voyages from Brest, France, to New York, returning troops to the United States.

In the summer of 1919, South Dakota was ordered back to the Pacific to serve as flagship of the Asiatic Fleet, arriving at Manila on 27 October 1919. South Dakota was renamed Huron on 7 June 1920 and was designated CA-9 on 17 July 1920. She served in the Asiatic Fleet for the next seven years, operating in Philippine waters during the winter and out of Shanghai and Chefoo during the summer.

Ordered home, Huron departed Manila on the last day of 1926 and arrived at the Puget Sound Navy Yard on 3 March 1927. She was decommissioned on 17 June 1927 and remained in reserve until she was struck from the Navy list on 15 November 1929. She was sold on 11 February 1930 for scrapping in accordance with the provisions of the London Treaty for the limitation and reduction of naval armament.

USS South Dakota ARC-9 - History

50th Anniversary of Battleship Memorial

27th Reunion of Crew Members

U.S.S. South Dakota BB57
“Battleship X”

September 5-7, 2019

September 7th
Municipal Band Concert & Program
at Memorial Site
Band Concert: 10:00 am
Program: 11:00 am

Sailors stand in formation during the commissioning ceremony of USS South Dakota (SSN 790). South Dakota is the U.S. Navy’s 17th Virginia-Class attack submarine and the third ship named for the State of South Dakota. (Jeffrey M. Richardson/U.S. Navy)

Be A Battleship Memorial Supporter

Website Adds Photo Gallery

A searchable photo gallery with dozens of images of the Battleship and its crew are now available for viewing on this site.

Tom Brokaw's Tribute

Tom Brokaw is an American television journalist and author best known as the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News from 1982 to 2004. He is the author of The Greatest Generation (1998) and other books and the recipient of numerous awards and honors.

Click here to hear Mr. Brokaw's tribute to the ship and crew of the USS South Dakota.

USS South Dakotas

USS South Dakota (ACR-9)

Name: USS South Dakota (1908-1920)
Renamed: USS Huron (1920-1929)
Type: Pennsylvania Class Cruiser
Launched: July 21, 1904
Commissioned: January 27, 1908
Decommissioned: June 17, 1927
Fate: Sold for scrap, 11 February 1930. Hull sunk at Powell River, Canada

USS South Dakota (BB-57)

Name: USS South Dakota (BB-57)
Type: South Dakota Class Battleship
Launched: June 7, 1941
Commissioned: March 20, 1942
Decommissioned: January 31, 1947
Fate: Sold for scrap / Parts of the ship are in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

USS South Dakota (SSN-790)

Name: USS South Dakota (SSN 790)
Type: Virginia Class Attack Submarine
Construction To Begin: 2013
Joins Fleet: 2017

More Info

To the Pacific

Conducting shakedown operations in June and July, South Dakota received orders to sail for Tonga. Passing through the Panama Canal, the battleship arrived on September 4. Two days later, it struck coral in the Lahai Passage causing damage to the hull. Steaming north to Pearl Harbor, South Dakota underwent the necessary repairs. Sailing in October, the battleship joined Task Force 16 which included the carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6). Rendezvousing with USS Hornet (CV-8) and Task Force 17, this combined force, led by Rear Admiral Thomas Kinkaid, engaged the Japanese at the Battle of Santa Cruz on October 25-27. Attacked by enemy aircraft, the battleship screened the carriers and sustained a bomb hit on one of its forward turrets. Returning to Nouméa after the battle, South Dakota collided with the destroyer USS Mahan while attempting to avoid a submarine contact. Reaching port, it received repairs for the damage caused in the fighting and from the collision.

Sortieing with TF16 on November 11, South Dakota detached two days later and joined USS Washington (BB-56) and four destroyers. This force, led by Rear Admiral Willis A. Lee, was ordered north on November 14 after American forces suffered heavy losses in the opening phases of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Engaging Japanese forces that night, Washington and South Dakota sank the Japanese battleship Kirishima. In the course of the battle, South Dakota suffered a brief power outage and sustained forty-two hits from enemy guns. Withdrawing to Nouméa, the battleship made temporary repairs before departing for New York to receive an overhaul. As the US Navy wished to limit the operational information provided to the public, many of South Dakota's early actions were reported as those of "Battleship X."

Shakedown cruise

South Dakota began her shakedown on 3 March 1908. The ship sailed from San Francisco to Mexican waters, carrying out trials in Magdalena Bay from 8 to 10 March, and on 11 and 12 March off Isla Cedros—the ship reported her movements off the Anglicized spelling of Cerros Island, contributing to debate among international navigators concerning the designation of the island. She came about and visited San Diego, California (13–24 March). South Dakota then made a brief voyage northward along the Californian coast and put into San Pedro through the end of the month, followed by a visit to Long Beach (1–5 April), returning to San Pedro on 5 and 6 April. On 8 and 9 April, the cruiser lay off the Mare Island Light, and then visited San Francisco. South Dakota attained a speed of 22.24 knots (41.19 km/h 25.59 mph) on trials. [3]

She then made for the Pacific Northwest to accomplish work associated with her shakedown, reaching Port Angeles, Washington, on 12 April 1908, and (13–23 April) entering drydock at Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington. South Dakota floated from the drydock and then anchored off Anacortes, Washington, from 23 to 25 April. Assigned to the Armored Cruiser Squadron, Pacific Fleet, South Dakota visited Seattle, Washington, (25–27 April). The ship returned to Puget Sound to participate in a reception for the Atlantic Fleet through 1 May. Following the reception, the cruiser completed her final acceptance trials off San Francisco through the end of May. South Dakota cruised off the west coast of the United States into August. She departed San Francisco in company with Tennessee on 24 August, arriving on 23 September at Pago Pago, Samoa. [3]

Trace The Life Of USS South Dakota (BB-57)

New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden, New Jersey, laid the keel of the second USS SOUTH DAKOTA (BB-57). This would be the lead ship in the South Dakota class of battleships.

The ship was launched into the Delaware River, with Vera C. Bushfield, wife of Governor Harlan J. Bushfield of South Dakota, performing the christening honors.

USS SOUTH DAKOTA (BB 57) was commissioned into active service in the U.S. Navy, with Captain Thomas L. Gatch in command. The Commandant, Fourth Naval District placed the ship in commission at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in Pennsylvania. The Washington High School band from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, played "Anchors Aweigh" and the "Star Spangled Banner" as the ship slid into the Delaware River.

Observation Squadron (VO) 6, the SOUTH DAKOTA’s aviation unit, stood up at Floyd Bennett Field, New York, with an initial compliment of six pilots, 27 enlisted men, and three Vought OS2U-3 Kingfisher aircraft.

USS SOUTH DAKOTA set sail for her shakedown, a day after proceeding down the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Following gunnery practice and aviation training in Chesapeake Bay, she was in the Atlantic Ocean, practicing high speed runs and tactical exercises on 19 July, when she collided with a large whale, which disappeared beneath the waves. The ship returned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 26 July at the completion of her shakedown.

SOUTH DAKOTA sailed for the Pacific. She and her escorts transited the Panama Canal on 21 August and crossed the International Date Line on 2 September, reaching Tongatabu, Tonga Islands, on 4 September.

SOUTH DAKOTA struck an uncharted coral pinnacle in Lahai Passage, causing extensive underwater hull damage. Six days later, she sailed for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for repairs.

SOUTH DAKOTA left Pearl Harbor Navy Yard with four new quad-40-millimeter antiaircraft guns and 22 single 20-millimeter guns added. The Kingfishers contained a new installation of Identification Friend or Foe.

During the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, a 500-pound bomb exploded on top of Turret I, the battleship’s forward triple 16-inch mount. A bomb fragment wounded Captain Gatch, who was out on the catwalk in front of the bridge, cutting a gash in his jugular vein and knocking him unconscious. Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Herbert Chatelain, the ship’s first battle fatality, was killed by a bomb fragment. SOUTH DAKOTA provided antiaircraft fire that contributed to the survival of USS Enterprise, while USS Hornet was the fourth U.S. fleet carrier lost during 1942. The enemy carriers survived, and Japan scored a tactical victory, but the failure of the simultaneous land offensive on Guadalcanal prevented exploitation of that triumph.

The second Battle of Guadalcanal included a night action off Savo Island. SOUTH DAKOTA sustained 42 major caliber hits in the superstructure. Forty men were killed and 180 wounded. In addition to fires onboard, the battleship suffered electrical failures initiated by the shock of firing. A short circuit in a cable led to an overload that knocked out the main circuit supplying power to the after part of the ship crewmen restored power within three minutes. Blasts from the 16-inch guns blew two of the three Kingfishers over the side. VO-6’s aviators later presented the gunners with two miniature flags in commemoration of the incident. This battle exposed the Navy’s lack of effective training in night combat. Although the Americans lost more warships, the Japanese withdrew and never again sent large naval forces into the Guadalcanal area.

One of SOUTH DAKOTA'S gun crewmen, and the youngest sailor of World War II, 12-year-old Calvin Graham from Texas, was severely wounded when struck by Japanese shellfire fragments. He continued to man his gun and help pull fellow crewmen to safety. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, which were taken away when the Navy voided his underage enlistment. His story was told in a 1988 made-for-TV film, Too Young the Hero, starring Ricky Schroder. The Navy eventually restored his decorations, some posthumously.

USS South Dakota ARC-9 - History

The South Dakota (SSN 790) is the 17th Virginia-class attack submarine and the third United States Navy ship named for the state of South Dakota. The contract to build her was awarded to General Dynamics Electric Boat division on December 22, 2008, and the construction began in March 2013.

April 4, 2016 The keel for the future USS South Dakota was laid down during a ceremony at GDEB&rsquos Quonset Point facility in North Kingstown, R.I.

October 14, 2017 The Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) South Dakota was christened during a 10 a.m. EDT ceremony at the Electric Boat shipyard's assembly bay in Groton, Conn. Mrs. Deanie Dempsey, wife of the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey (Army), served as sponsor of the ship. Cmdr. Ronald L. Withrow, Jr., is the prospective commanding officer.

August 28, 2018 PCU South Dakota returned to Electric Boat shipyard after underway for the first time to conduct Alpha sea trials Underway again from Aug. 30- Sept. ?.

September 24, General Dynamic's Electric Boat officialy delivered the future USS South Dakota to U.S. Navy.

November 2, Cmdr. Craig E. Litty relieved Cmdr. Ronald L. Withrow, Jr., as CO of the South Dakota, during a change-of-command ceremony at Dealey Center theater on Naval Submarine Base New London.

From December 15-17, the South Dakota conducted acoustic trials off the coast of Port Everglades, Florida Returned to Groton on Dec. 20 Underway again on Jan. 9.

January 26, 2019 PCU South Dakota moored at Pier 6N on Naval Submarine Base New London in preparation for its commissioning ceremony.

February 2, USS South Dakota was commissioned during an 11 a.m. EDT ceremony at NSB New London in Groton, Connecticut.

February 5, SSN 790 recently departed homeport in support of the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) CSG's COMPTUEX Moored at Wharf D2 in Naval Station Mayport, Fla., from Feb. 8-14 Returned to Groton on Feb. 2?.

February 27, General Dynamics Electric Boat Corp. was awarded an $18,2 million modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-09-C-2104) for planning and execution of USS South Dakota's Post Shakedown Availability (PSA). Work is expected to be completed by December 2020 An adittional $76,2 million, $60 million and $55,1 million contracts were awarded on March 4.

March 5, USS South Dakota moved from Naval Submarine Base New London to Electric Boat shipyard.

July 13, 2020 General Dynamics Electric Boat Corp. was awarded a $15,9 million modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-09-C-2104) to perform alterations during the USS South Dakota's PSA.


The USS South Dakota Battleship (BB57) will be launched for a third time March 24 --- this time into cyberspace.

The most decorated battleship in World War II will soon become available to the 1.9 billion Internet users around the world via a “VTour” (virtual tour) authorized by the ship's Memorial Board. A Memorial to the famed WWII war ship was built in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in 1969 as a tribute to the 114 officers and 2,240 enlisted sailors 95 who were killed in action. Though named for the State, this ship had crew members from the then 48 states making the USS South Dakota truly an All-American Battleship.

The new "VTour" allows any Internet user to tour the USS South Dakota Battleship Memorial viewing key parts of the ship and a large collection of memorabilia. This combined with oral histories of various shipmates, battle video, photos and an interactive route of the ship during WWII to highlight major battles combines into a museum just a click away. A 1950s interview with the late Sergeant Shriver, one of the ship's officers, gives a unique firsthand account of naval battles fought by the USS South Dakota.

The VTour concept was conceived by Rick Lingberg, For Your Information (FYI), Sioux Falls, and a group of volunteers who wanted to share this national treasure with the world. VTours are the next generation in e-publishing for historical, artistic and cultural experiences.

"We've taken the past into the present and preserved it for the future," said Lingberg. "It's a tribute to those who helped win the naval battles of World War II," he added. "We believe we have created a unique new concept that will be helpful to museums, historic societies and others wanting to preserve history," added Lingberg.

“The USS South
Dakota Battleship Memorial has
established a
new Internet
usage combining
a variety
of multi-media applications that
will bring museums
and how we show
into the 21 st

Dr. James Canton
American Futurist

Dr. James Canton, a leading American Futurist, said, “The USS South Dakota Battleship Memorial has established a new Internet usage combining a variety of multi-media applications that will bring museums and how we show history into the 21 st Century.”

The Virtual Tour can be accessed at

USS South Dakota VTour website allows
visitors to take a 360º tour of the
Memorial from anywhere in the world.

The USS South Dakota Battleship Memorial President Dave Witte said, "While we're physically opened Memorial Day through Labor Day, viewers can now experience the story of this famous battleship 24/7 from anywhere in the world."

Lingberg said additional attractions will be added to the site and links to other naval historic sites will also be included.

The USS South Dakota was build in Camden, NJ, and launched June 7, 1941. It was commissioned March 20, 1942. The South Dakota's first major battle action in the South Pacific was the Battle of Guadalcanal and Santa Cruz ultimately receiving 13 Battle Stars for combat.

The USS South Dakota was reported sunk three times by the Imperial Japanese Navy so through much of World War II it was called "Battleship X", "Old Nameless" and “Sodak”.

It was the first of the large powerful battleships built to bolster the World War II Navy all named for states with the USS Missouri being the last to be built.

It was decommissioned in the 1950s and scheduled to be cut up for scrap. Between 1962 and 1969 a Sioux Falls group was able to negotiate saving key parts of the ship, building a Memorial in the Sherman Park Complex on Sioux Falls City Park land, and housing records and memorabilia from the ship. The surviving crew has held a reunion at the Memorial biannually for much of three decades. Two additions have been added to the Memorial to hold the ever-expanding collection. The newest addition is scheduled for grand opening in July.

The USS South Dakota Battleship Memorial is free supported by donations and many volunteers along with assistance from the City of Sioux Falls Parks Department.

USS South Dakota (SSN-790)

The Virginia-class series of nuclear attack submarines represents one of the most important undersea components of the modern United States Navy (USN). Some 48 total boats of the group are planned with sixteen completed as of late-2017. The latest of these is USS South Dakota (SSN-790), laid down on April 4th, 2016 and christened on October 14th, 2017. The boat is part of the Block III batch featuring a modified bow section as well as improved technologies. Electric Boat (General Dynamics) was responsible for her construction after the contract was awarded on December 22nd, 2008.

The boat displaces 7,800 tons under load and has a length of 377 feet with a beam measuring 34 feet. Power is from an S9G series nuclear reactor unit generating 40,000 horsepower to a single shaft astern. This provides essentially unlimited range (an estimated thirty-three year lifespan for the reactor is reported) and speeds reach up to 25 knots. On board there is a crew of 134 (14 officer-level candidates) and mission endurance is limited to food supplies and general maintenance schedules.

The armament suite of the attack submarine consists of 4 x 533mm torpedo tubes cleared to fire the Mk 48 torpedo series. About 37 reloads can be carried. Beyond this the boat also supports the launching of the BGM-109 "Tomahawk" land-attack cruise missile and twelve Vertical Launching Systems (VLSs) are installed. The boat can fire these while completely submerged so as to maintain its position away from enemy eyes. The "Harpoon" anti-ship missile is also another ranged option for the boat and the type can also release naval mines as needed.

The general profile of SSN-790 is consistent with the Virginia-class. The nose section is rounded for hydrodynamic efficiency and contains a sonar fit as we well as the four torpedo launch tubes. Ahead of midships is the conning tower / sail and various communications and sensors are installed on the structure. The hull is tubular and tapers at the stern where a cruciform plane arrange is featured. Aft of this is the single-shaft propeller unit which is shrouded for noise reduction. The entire boat is also optimized for stealth through various noise-reduction means. Surface-search and navigation radars are carried as well as a complete electronic warfare suite.

The Virginia-class Block III group includes USS North Dakota, USS John Warner, USS Illinois, USS Washington, USS Colorado, USS Indiana and USS Delaware. USS South Dakota and USS Delaware officially remain "under construction" as of this writing (2017). The versatility of these boats is such that it can undertake intelligence-gathering missions, support special operations forces, defend contested sea-spaces and deny strategic areas from the enemy.

Seeking Deck Logs of USS South Dakota BB-57

My Grandfather, John E Kemper, served on the South Dakota from 1942 until right before the end of the war.  I am looking for the deck logs to the ship specifically their engagements.  I am new to this and have looked around some, but I am not sure how to go about it. Thank you

Re: Seeking Deck Logs of USS South Dakota BB-57
Jason Atkinson 25.11.2019 8:54 (в ответ на John Kemper)

Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!

We searched the National Archives Catalog and located the Logbooks of U.S. Navy Ships and Stations, 1941 - 1983 in the Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel (Record Group 24) that include the deck log of the USS South Dakota (South Dakota) from its commissioning on 20 March 1942 through its decommissioning on 31 January 1947. We also located World War II Action and Operational Reports, 12/7/1941 - 1946 which includes reports concerning the South Dakota’s engagements.  For access to and/or copies of these records, please contact the National Archives at College Park - Textual Reference (RDT2) via email at [email protected] .

Also, World War II War Diaries, Other Operational Records and Histories, ca. 1/1/1942 - ca. 6/1/1946 in the Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (Record Group 38) contains war diaries, a war history, and other records concerning the USS Dakota’s activities during World War 2. These records have been digitized and can be viewed online through the Catalog .  Please keep in mind that the Catalog does not always list files in chronological order.

We hope this information is helpful. Best of luck with your family research!

The Boy Who Became a World War II Veteran at 13 Years Old

With powerful engines, extensive firepower and heavy armor, the newly christened battleship USS South Dakota steamed out of Philadelphia in August of 1942 spoiling for a fight. The crew was made up of “green boys”—new recruits who enlisted after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor—who had no qualms about either their destination or the action they were likely to see. Brash and confident, the crew couldn’t get through the Panama Canal fast enough, and their captain, Thomas Gatch, made no secret of the grudge he bore against the Japanese. “No ship more eager to fight ever entered the Pacific,” one naval historian wrote.

From This Story

Video: Archival Footage of D-Day

In less than four months, the South Dakota would limp back to port in New York for repairs to extensive damage suffered in some of World War II’s most ferocious battles at sea. The ship would become one of the most decorated warships in U.S. Navy history and acquire a new moniker to reflect the secrets it carried. The Japanese, it turned out, were convinced the vessel had been destroyed at sea, and the Navy was only too happy to keep the mystery alive—stripping the South Dakota of identifying markings and avoiding any mention of it in communications and even sailors’ diaries. When newspapers later reported on the ship’s remarkable accomplishments in the Pacific Theater, they referred to it simply as “Battleship X.”

Calvin Graham, the USS South Dakota‘s 12-year-old gunner, in 1942. Photo: Wikipedia

That the vessel was not resting at the bottom of the Pacific was just one of the secrets Battleship X carried through day after day of hellish war at sea. Aboard was a gunner from Texas who would soon become the nation’s youngest decorated war hero. Calvin Graham, the fresh-faced seaman who had set off for battle from the Philadelphia Navy Yard in the summer of 1942, was only 12 years old.

Graham was just 11 and in the sixth grade in Crockett, Texas, when he hatched his plan to lie about his age and join the Navy. One of seven children living at home with an abusive stepfather, he and an older brother moved into a cheap rooming house, and Calvin supported himself by selling newspapers and delivering telegrams on weekends and after school. Even though he moved out, his mother would occasionally visit—sometimes to simply sign his report cards at the end of a semester.  The country was at war, however, and being around newspapers afforded the boy the opportunity to keep up on events overseas.

“I didn’t like Hitler to start with,” Graham later told a reporter. When he learned that some of his cousins had died in battles, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to fight. “In those days, you could join up at 16 with your parents’ consent, but they preferred 17,” Graham later said. But he had no intention of waiting five more years. He began to shave at age 11, hoping it would somehow make him look older when he met with military recruiters.  Then he lined up with some buddies (who forged his mother’s signature and stole a notary stamp from a local hotel) and waited to enlist.

At 5-foot-2 and just 125 pounds, Graham dressed in an older brother’s clothes and fedora and practiced “talking deep.” What worried him most was not that an enlistment officer would spot the forged signature. It was the dentist who would peer into the mouths of potential recruits. “I knew he’d know how young I was by my teeth,” Graham recalled. He lined up behind a couple of guys he knew who were already 14 or 15, and “when the dentist kept saying I was 12, I said I was 17.”  At last, Graham played his ace, telling the dentist that he knew for a fact that the boys in front of him weren’t 17 yet, and the dentist had let them through. “Finally,” Graham recalled, “he said he didn’t have time to mess with me and he let me go.” Graham maintained that the Navy knew he and the others on line that day were underage, “but we were losing the war then, so they took six of us.”

It wasn’t uncommon for boys to lie about their age in order to serve. Ray Jackson, who joined the Marines at 16 during World War II, founded the group Veterans of Underage Military Service in 1991, and it listed more than 1,200 active members, including 26 women.  “Some of these guys came from large families and there wasn’t enough food to go around, and this was a way out,” Jackson told a reporter. “Others just had family problems and wanted to get away.”

Calvin Graham told his mother he was going to visit relatives. Instead, he dropped out of the seventh grade and shipped off to San Diego for basic training.  There, he said, the drill instructors were aware of the underage recruits and often made them run extra miles and lug heavier packs.

Just months after her christening in 1942, the USS South Dakota was attacked relentlessly in the Pacific. Photo: Wikipedia

By the time the USS South Dakota made it to the Pacific, it had become part of a task force alongside the legendary carrier USS Enterprise (the “Big E”). By early October 1942, the two ships, along with their escorting cruisers and destroyers, raced to the South Pacific to engage in the fierce fighting in the battle for Guadalcanal. After they reached the Santa Cruz Islands on October 26, the Japanese quickly set their sights on the carrier and launched an air attack that easily penetrated the Enterprise’s own air patrol. The carrier USS Hornet was repeatedly torpedoed and sank off Santa Cruz, but the South Dakota managed to protect Enterprise, destroying 26 enemy planes with a barrage from its antiaircraft guns.

Standing on the bridge, Captain Gatch watched as a 500-pound bomb struck the South Dakota’s main gun turret. The explosion injured 50 men, including the skipper, and killed one. The ship’s armor was so thick, many of the crew were unaware they’d been hit.  But word quickly spread that Gatch had been knocked unconscious. Quick-thinking quartermasters managed to save the captain’s life—his jugular vein had been severed, and the ligaments in his arms suffered permanent damage—but some onboard were aghast that he didn’t hit the deck when he saw the bomb coming. “I consider it beneath the dignity of a captain of an American battleship to flop for a Japanese bomb,” Gatch later said.

The ship’s young crew continued to fire at anything in the air, including American bombers that were low on fuel and trying to land on the Enterprise. The South Dakota was quickly getting a reputation for being wild-eyed and quick to shoot, and Navy pilots were warned not to fly anywhere near it. The South Dakota was fully repaired at Pearl Harbor, and Captain Gatch returned to his ship, wearing a sling and bandages. Seaman Graham quietly became a teenager, turning 13 on November 6, just as Japanese naval forces began shelling an American airfield on Guadalcanal Island. Steaming south with the Enterprise, Task Force 64, with the South Dakota and another battleship, the USS Washington, took four American destroyers on a night search for the enemy near Savo Island. There, on November 14, Japanese ships opened fire, sinking or heavily damaging the American destroyers in a four day engagement that became known as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.

Later that evening the South Dakota encountered eight Japanese destroyers with deadly accurate 16-inch guns, the South Dakota set fire to three of them. “They never knew what sank ‘em,” Gatch would recall. One Japanese ship set its searchlights on the South Dakota, and the ship took 42 enemy hits, temporarily losing power. Graham was manning his gun when shrapnel tore through his jaw and mouth another hit knocked him down, and he fell through three stories of superstructure. Still, the 13 year-old made it to his feet, dazed and bleeding, and helped pull other crew members to safety while others were thrown by the force of the explosions, their bodies aflame, into the Pacific.

“I took belts off the dead and made tourniquets for the living and gave them cigarettes and encouraged them all night,” Graham later said.  ”It was a long night. It aged me.” The shrapnel had knocked out his front teeth, and he had flash burns from the hot guns, but he was “fixed up with salve and a coupla stitches,” he recalled. “I didn’t do any complaining because half the ship was dead.  It was a while before they worked on my mouth.” In fact, the ship had casualties of 38 men killed and 60 wounded.

Regaining power, and after afflicting heavy damage to the Japanese ships, the South Dakota rapidly disappeared in the smoke. Captain Gatch would later remark of his “green” men, “Not one of the ship’s company flinched from his post or showed the least disaffection.” With the Japanese Imperial Navy under the impression that it had sunk the South Dakota, the legend of Battleship X was born.

After the Japanese Imperial Navy falsely believed it had sunk the South Dakota in November, 1942, the American vessel became known as “Battleship X.” Photo: Wikimedia

In mid-December, the damaged ship returned to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for major repairs, where Gatch and his crew were profiled for their heroic deeds in the Pacific. Calvin Graham received a Bronze Star for distinguishing himself in combat, as well as a Purple Heart for his injuries. But he couldn’t bask in glory with his fellow crewmen while their ship was being repaired. Graham’s mother, reportedly having recognized her son in newsreel footage, wrote the Navy, revealing the gunner’s true age.

Graham returned to Texas and was thrown in a brig at Corpus Christi, Texas, for almost three months.

Battleship X returned to the Pacific and continued to shoot Japanese planes out of the sky. Graham, meanwhile, managed to get a message out to his sister Pearl, who complained to the newspapers that the Navy was mistreating the “Baby Vet.” The Navy eventually ordered Graham’s release, but not before stripping him of his medals for lying about his age and revoking his disability benefits. He was simply tossed from jail with a suit and a few dollars in his pocket—and no honorable discharge.

Back in Houston, though, he was treated as a celebrity. Reporters were eager to write his story, and when the war film Bombadier premiered at a local theater, the film’s star, Pat O’Brien, invited Graham to the stage to be saluted by the audience. The attention quickly faded. At age 13, Graham tried to return to school, but he couldn’t keep pace with students his age and quickly dropped out. He married at age 14, became a father the following year, and found work as a welder in a Houston shipyard. Neither his job nor his marriage lasted long. At 17 years old and divorced, and with no service record, Graham was about to be drafted when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He soon broke his back in a fall, for which he received a 20 percent service-connected disability. The only work he could find after that was selling magazine subscriptions.

When President Jimmy Carter was elected, in 1976, Graham began writing letters, hoping that Carter, “an old Navy man,” might be sympathetic. All Graham had wanted was an honorable discharge so he could get help with his medical and dental expenses. “I had already given up fighting” for the discharge, Graham said at the time. “But then they came along with this discharge program for deserters. I know they had their reasons for doing what they did, but I figure I damn sure deserved more than they did.”

In 1977, Texas Senators Lloyd Bentsen and John Tower introduced a bill to give Graham his discharge, and in 1978, Carter announced that it had been approved and that Graham’s medals would be restored, with the exception of the Purple Heart.  Ten years later, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation approving disability benefits for Graham.

Watch the video: World War II Footage - Battleship USS South Dakota BB-57