Naval Ships and a Land-Locked State

14 February 2019

“While we are about as far away from an ocean as you can get, South Dakotans have a long history of service to the Navy,” said Senator Mike Rounds at the most recent christening of the USS Pierre. Indeed, beachfront property has little bearing on a ship’s name, and this Pierre is the third naval vessel in history named after the state’s capital. In 1918, Congress established the naming of ships as a duty of the Secretary of the Navy with current practices being based on vessel type. In general, battleships are named after states, cruisers after cities, and destroyers after various naval leaders and heroes. In 1931, the United States Navy decided that submarines should be named after “fish and denizens of the deep.”

The latest iteration of USS Pierre is a 419-foot-long combat ship designed to operate in coastal waters and capable of speeds exceeding forty knots (forty-six miles per hour). The navy first honored Pierre (pronounced “pier”) in World War II with the naming of a cargo vessel. During the war, the SS Pierre Victory survived three separate kamikaze attacks by the Japanese—one of these attacks sunk two other ships.1 The second vessel, a World War II submarine chaser, became part of the Indonesian Navy after decommissioning.

Many of the vessels named in the state’s honor have contributed to the outcome of conflicts. The most famous is the USS South Dakota, commissioned in 1934 as the first in a new class of shorter, faster battleships that offered aircraft-carrier protection and bombardment action instead of ship-to-ship engagement. Archivist Matthew T. Reitzel noted that the USS South Dakota sank three ships, shot down sixty-four airplanes, and participated in nine bombardments, sailing a total of 246,970 miles.2

Jennifer McIntyre


In the image at top, Pierre resident, Emma S. Jassman, christens the SS Pierre Victory in 1944. Five of Jassman’s children served during World War II. Photograph courtesy of the South Dakota State Historical Society, Archives.  

1. George J. Ryan, ed., Braving the Wartime Seas (Kings Point, N.Y.: American Maritime History Project, 2014), p. 218

2. Reitzel, “Genevieve Trask and the Double Christening of the USS South Dakota,” South Dakota History 48 (Spring 2018): 32–57