Tickets in hand, Dennis Butterfield's heart is filled with pride.
Butterfield, a retired U.S. Navy veteran from Mitchell, is making a journey to the East Coast, and will be one of thousands attending the commissioning ceremony for the USS South Dakota nuclear-powered submarine this weekend.
The Virginia Class submarine has the most top-of-the-line innovations of any fast-attack submarine in the Navy fleet. The boat was christened on Oct. 14, 2017 and is now entering the final phase prior to commissioning on Saturday in Groton, Connecticut.
"I'm very excited about going to the ceremony," said Butterfield. "We found out about it when we went to the State Fair last year. They were taking applications for the commissioning ceremony of the USS South Dakota and I didn't really give it a thought and just put my name in the hat."
A few weeks later, Butterfield received a package from the U.S. Navy, including an application to fill out and return. Later on, he received additional applications and, after a lengthy process and multiple background checks and paperwork, the sought-after tickets arrived in his Navy-themed mailbox in December.
"I'm still not sure what the criteria was to receive this honor," Butterfield said. "Maybe being a former member of the Navy and being from South Dakota helped a little."
Butterfield, who was born and raised in Mitchell, joined the Navy right after high school when he was 17 and served for four years. From 1965 to 1968, he was stationed on the USS Kaskaskia out of Mayport, Florida. The USS Kaskaskia was a Cimarron-class fleet replenishment oiler, named for the Kaskaskia River in Illinois.
"We refueled ships at sea and repaired combat gear," Butterfield said. "I was an electronic technician third class. Unfortunately, I never made it to Vietnam at that time."
Butterfield and his crew members were deployed to Guantanamo Bay in the late 1960s for a couple of weeks and also made a six-month cruise through the Atlantic Ocean, but did not face combat.
"At least I had the chance to go to sea for a while," Butterfield said.
In 2012, the U.S. Navy announced that a new submarine, SSN 790 would be named USS South Dakota. (In the Navy naming style, the SS denotes a submarine and the N denotes nuclear power. The South Dakota will join a class of 18 ships in the Virginia class.) The submarine was built by the electric boat division of General Dynamics and will carry Tomahawk cruise missiles that can strike land targets up to 1,240 miles away. A nuclear reactor will power the vessel for its entire lifespan of 30 years. The submarine will be manned by 132 crew members; 15 officers and 117 enlisted servicemen.
Part of the Commissioning Committee's role is to build relationships between the crew and South Dakota residents. Numerous crew members have visited the state in recent years, and in October, the community of Mitchell hosted a special ceremony at the Corn Palace, dedicating the murals themed "A Salute to the Military," in which the World War II and newly built versions of the USS South Dakota are featured.
After returning to Mitchell from his service in the Navy, Butterfield was not very proud of the fact that he served and didn't want to draw any attention to himself, said his wife of 37 years, Jane Butterfield.
"Now, things have changed and veterans receive the appreciation they deserve for serving our country," said Jane. "When he came back during the Vietnam era, things were different. But now that he's excited, I am too."
The couple plans to arrive in Connecticut Thursday evening, tour the boat and Nautilus Museum, and participate in a special reception for visitors coming to the event.
Thousands of visitors are scheduled to attend the ceremony on Saturday at the Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut. That event is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Central time, which is when the submarine will officially become the USS South Dakota. The event will be live-streamed by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, starting at 9:55 a.m. at www.dvids.net.