With history of service remembered, sub South Dakota is christened
Groton — The phrase “HoKa Hey” was once used as a battle cry by the South Dakota Oglala Lakota warrior known as Crazy Horse. Its translation is commonly thought to mean “It’s a good day to die.”
But when ship sponsor Deanie Dempsey spoke those very words during a christening ceremony of the future submarine South Dakota (SSN-790) at Electric Boat on Saturday, they meant “Let’s go” or, specifically, “Let’s roll.”
And it was precisely this phrase that was cried back to her by the future submarine’s prospective crew of 132 — a repurposed battle cry that will stand as their motto going forward with the boat.
It was these men, their families, and those who helped build the submarine that Dempsey called to remember while speaking in front of a crowd of hundreds inside the massive assembly hall at EB Saturday morning as the company celebrated the christening of its 17th Virginia-class submarine.
Dempsey joins a long list of military wives who typically volunteer to sponsor a submarine. She is the wife of Martin Dempsey, a now retired U.S. Army general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and has been a notable advocate for military members and their families. She and the many nods made to the distinctive history of South Dakota were at the center of attention throughout Saturday's ceremony.
The ceremony is one of three held for every submarine. It comes between the keel laying — the ceremonial start of construction — and a commissioning ceremony that is held once a submarine is completed and delivered to the Navy.
And even though it is said that Dempsey’s spirit will go forward with the South Dakota, “It’s these men who will truly bring it to life,” she said before whacking the hull with a bottle of sparkling wine from a vineyard in the ship’s namesake state.
“This is the third United States naval vessel named for the 40th state in our nation,” EB President Jeff Geiger said.
The first, he said, is known as the USS South Dakota (ACR-9), an armored cruiser that served in the South Atlantic during World War I. The second, a battleship known as the USS South Dakota (BB-57), served throughout the Pacific Theater during World War II and participated in several major surface actions.
Commemorating these ships and those who served aboard them, Geiger also honored South Dakota native and WWII veteran Donovan Charles, a crew member of the USS South Dakota (BB-57) — one of the battleships at the battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima. Charles, now 92 years old, traveled from California to attend the christening.
“It’s been 76 years since the last ship named for South Dakota was christened,” Geiger continued, referring to the ship that Charles served on. “So, we are eager to move forward with the construction of this submarine so that the state of South Dakota is again represented in the naval force.”
The $2.7 billion boat weighs more than 7,800 tons, is longer than a football field and is the seventh of the new Block III, which features a redesigned bow section.
EB and Newport News Shipbuilding have so far delivered 14 Virginia-class submarines to the Navy; another 14 are either under construction or under contract, including the South Dakota.
On that note, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District; U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy all remarked on and applauded the upswing in submarine production in Connecticut over the last nine years.
“South Dakota’s christening will have a special place in the region’s submarining history because she was built here during the renaissance-era of growth and innovation,” Courtney said. “As those of us in Connecticut know, this shipyard looks dramatically different than it did nine years ago when South Dakota was first authorized by Congress. Back then, Groton and Newport were limping along at a one-sub-per-year build rate. However, as steel wires and pipes have come together to build this boat, so too has the shipyard in Groton.”
Father Dariusz Dudzik, of Sacred Heart Catholic Parish in Groton, blessed the ship.
Several politicians from Rhode Island and South Dakota also gave remarks, including U.S. Sen. Michael Rounds of South Dakota and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
South Dakota is expected to be delivered to the Navy on Aug. 31, 2018.
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