Wednesday morning at the World War II Memorial on Capitol Lake, Tom Muenster wiped away some dreck that had accumulated on the six bronze statues that make up the memorial – with particular attention to the sailor.
Not much later after that, he rode a Harley Davidson motorcycle down the steps and parked it in front of the statues.
Muenster, a navy veteran, was wiping down the statues to prepare for a photo opp with the South Dakota Community Foundation. He serves on the USS South Dakota Commissioning Committee. The state’s namesake submarine in the U.S. Navy was christened in Groton, Conn., on Oct. 14 last year. It will be commissioned later this year.
Muenster told the Capital Journal that commissioning of the vessel meant two things: that the crew was fully trained, qualified and capable of carrying out the boat’s mission; and that the submarine itself was completely ready for service.
The foundation, represented by program officer Ginger Niemann, presented a check for $5,000 to the committee, represented by Muenster, Steve Harding, and Grace Beck. Harding, of course, is familiar as Pierre’s mayor and in his role as Deputy Secretary of the South Dakota Department of the Military.
Beck is a policy advisor with Redstone Law Firm. Her online profile with Redstone describes her role on the commissioning committee as a “little known fact about Grace.”
The role of the committee itself might not be that widely known, even if Wednesday’s check presentation wasn’t the first time the committee has been active in the Pierre area in the last few months.
In late October, four U.S. Navy sailors – who will be a part of the crew of the USS South Dakota, when it’s commissioned this fall – visited with Stanley County Elementary students.
The committee’s responsibility is to help forge ties between the sailors on the submarine and the resident’s of the submarine’s namesake state. As Muenster put it, the committee is supposed to introduce the sailors of the USS South Dakota to the “tradition, heritage and culture of South Dakota.”
That’s why the four sailors who visited in October went pheasant hunting with Gov. Dennis Daugaard.
And just as the sound of shotguns blasting roosters out of the skies is a part of South Dakota heritage, so too is the rumble of Harley-Davidson motorcycles at the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally. And the committee’s work means that USS South Dakota sailors will have a chance to brush up against the state’s motorcycle culture.
A commemorative edition 2018 H-D Street Glide has been donated to the committee by the Harley-Davidson Motor Company – painted by South Dakota artist Mickey Harris. The front fairing portrays the USS South Dakota submarine on the rider’s ride-hand side. The state’s namesake battleship from World War II, firing its 16-inch guns, is shown on the left.
Muenster said the motorcycle will be on the pier at the official commissioning ceremony, but will then return to the state and be displayed at the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame. But an ignition key to the bike will remain aboard the submarine as it sails off on its mission.
That ignition key is symbolic of the opportunity that USS South Dakota sailors will have, when they’re on leave – to head to Sturgis and take the commemorative edition Street Glide for a spin.
The $5,000 check from the SD Community Foundation was a South Dakota Fund grant, which is an unrestricted fund supporting “culture, economic development, education health and human services.” The application process for the grants is described on the foundation’s website.
Niemann told the Capital Journal the foundation makes around $500,000 worth of such grants annually. According to a foundation news release, the total amount of money distributed by the foundation in 2017, from any of its funds, was more than $13.5 million.