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Custom motorcycle kicks off sub South Dakota commissioning events

February 1, 2019

New London — When it was decided that the Navy would name one of its attack submarines after South Dakota, it seemed only natural to find a way to make a connection to one of the state’s major pastimes: motorcycling.

The result was a custom-made 2018 Harley-Davidson Street Glide motorcycle that pays homage to the attack submarine South Dakota, which will be commissioned in Groton on Saturday, and the battleship South Dakota, one of the most decorated battleships of World War II.

The bike was on display Thursday night at the official kickoff event for the commissioning at Mike’s Famous Harley-Davidson on Bank Street, which drew a crowd of about 700 people, including the crew of the South Dakota.

Harley-Davidson donated the bike and will keep it in running condition for the next 30 years. J&L Harley-Davidson of Sioux Falls, S.D., is the sponsoring dealer for the project, donating parts and labor.

The bike eventually will make its way to the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame in South Dakota, where it will be on permanent display. Any sailor assigned to the USS South Dakota will be able to ride the motorcycle during a visit to the museum, a way of helping to maintain a bond between the sailors and the boat’s namesake state.

The crew of the South Dakota was presented with a ceremonial key to the motorcycle Thursday night, in addition to a picture of the bike at Mount Rushmore. The real key will be waiting for them at the museum.

“We’re excited to have them come out and tour the state of South Dakota,” said Tom Muenster, co-chair of the South Dakota Commissioning Committee.

Muenster said he expects some sailors to take an initial ride next summer, during an event in which the motorcycle will travel across the state, starting in Sioux Falls and ending at the museum in Sturgis, where the bike will be inducted into the hall of fame.

South Dakota artist Mickey Harris, a pioneer of freehand airbrushing, painted the bike. He chose a deep blue color with waves throughout, conjuring the image of rough seas. On the front are images of a submarine launching a torpedo and a battleship firing one of its guns, with the crest of the submarine South Dakota in the center.

Harris, 62, of Menno, S.D., a military brat whose father was a fighter pilot and did two tours in Vietnam, is a member of the Pentagon’s art program, and several of his works are on display there.

“Everybody in South Dakota, they’re really, really proud of this submarine being named after the state, because, you know, there’s only 870,000 people in the whole state. So, it’s a big deal, especially in the small towns. There’s a lot of excitement being stirred there,” he said.

Inside the submarine South Dakota, there are touches of the boat’s namesake throughout. A red University of South Dakota flag hangs in the commanding officer’s quarters. The crew’s mess, where most of the 135 sailors on board eat, features images of well-known South Dakota places, such as Badlands National Park, Sioux Falls and The Corn Palace. The galley is named “Wild Bill’s Bistro” after legendary gunslinger “Wild Bill” Hickok. Unfortunately, bison burgers aren’t on the menu.

Senior Chief Chris Peddycoart, 38, of Oacoma, S.D., a member of the crew, said as soon as he found out there was a submarine being built that was named South Dakota, he started making phone calls to see if he could get orders to the boat.

“The state as a whole has always been really, really welcoming to the military. We have a huge sense of pride as a state,” Peddycoart said.

During his 20 years in the Navy, he said, he’s come across maybe five or six other sailors who hail from the Mount Rushmore State.

It took about five years to build the South Dakota, which, once it’s commissioned, “will be the absolute leader of the fleet in terms of the technology that it’s going to be bringing to make sure our country is strong and safe,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.

j.bergman@theday.com

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