An honorary motorcycle ride across South Dakota

The group of 10 Navy sailors with the USS South Dakota SSN-790 gather around the Harley-Davidson motorcycle Monday in front of the Corn Palace. The customized motorcycle commemorates their submarine and the USS South Dakota BB-57. In honor of the bike and the Navy warships, the group of 10 sailors rode their motorcycles across South Dakota on Sunday and Monday. (Sam Fosness / Republic)

As a group of 10 Navy sailors rode their motorcycles Sunday into Mitchell, the bikers gathered at the Corn Palace to honor one of the greatest warships in the U.S. Navy’s history.

The revered USS South Dakota BB-57 warship is what helped inspire the bikers -- who are all Navy sailors on the USS South Dakota SSN-790 -- embark on a two-day "Ride Across South Dakota," which began Sunday in Sioux Falls at the BB-57 memorial.

Thanks to J&L Harley-Davidson, out of Sioux Falls, the USS South Dakota SSN-790 submarine and BB-57 now have their own motorcycle that sat on display in front of the Corn Palace for several hours before the bikers continued their trek to Sturgis.

In honor of the battleship responsible for helping defeat the Nazi regime during WWII, the customized Harley-Davidson features embolden letters that read “USS BB-57” next to the engine.

“This is a special experience to be a part of, and I want to thank the city of Mitchell for gathering here today to honor such a great warship,” said Craig Litty, commanding officer of the USS South Dakota SSN-790 submarine.


Litty began the ceremony by gifting the city of Mitchell a folded American flag and a commemorative document out of thanks for hosting the event, in which Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson accepted the memorabilia on behalf of the city.

Prior to the brief ceremony that united roughly 40 people to witness the honorary event, Litty gazed at the military-themed corn murals. He said the support for the memorable Ride Across South Dakota has been a humbling experience.

“We are very proud of this bike, and it will be going to a special place,” Litty said of the customized SSN-790 and BB-57 Harley-Davidson bike. “We serve for our country and all of you, and this our way of showing thanks to your support.”

The 10 Navy bikers took turns riding the Harley-Davidson Street Glide motorcycle throughout their journey across the state, which concluded at the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum, where the special bike was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

Tom Muenster, retired Navy commander, said it’s the Navy’s first dedicated bike to receive an induction into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum’s Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Muenster said past and present Navy service members will have the opportunity to rent the bike in Sturgis for an extended period of time.

“It’s amazing seeing how much bikers have rallied with us on the first part of our ride from Sioux Falls to Mitchell,” said Daniel Pelino, navigations and electronic technician for the USS South Dakota SSN-790 submarine. “We couldn’t be more thankful for the support we have had from South Dakotans, and it’s a testament to how proud people are of the Navy and military.”

Pelino is one of the 10 bikers who had the chance to ride the motorcycle, and said the group of Navy servicemen welcomed roughly 60 bikers on the first 58 miles of their trek across the state. All motorcyclists were able to join the honorary ride.

Pelino said he’s proud to be a part of the Navy’s most recent battleship, and sharing a motorcycle with the most decorated warship in the Navy’s history adds another memorable experience to his time serving in the military.


“It’s the newest battleship in the fleet right now, and we have a lot of comradery on the ship,” Pelino said. "It's an honor to serve with them."

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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