Dakota Datebook

The USS Gurke

Thursday, January 30, 2014


On this date in 1976, the USS Gurke was decommissioned as a warship after nearly thirty years of service in the United States Navy.

The USS Gurke was a US Navy Destroyer, christened and launched in 1945. It boasted five-inch deck guns and anti-submarine weapons. With a crew of 280 the destroyer was 391 feet long, and 40 feet at the beam.

During the Korean War, the USS Gurke saw action in two separate combat patrols. These patrols provided gunfire support for landing forces; in both cases, the ship received direct hits. As a result of these naval actions, she was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation in September, 1950.

In 1963, the Gurke was rehabilitated and modernized and again saw combat action off the coast of Vietnam in 1971 and 1972. A few years later, the ship was part of the eventual evacuation of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees. It also played a part in the recovery of the USS Mayaguez in 1975.

And what does the USS Gurke have to do with our land-locked state of North Dakota?

The USS Gurke was named after Henry Gurke, the first North Dakotan to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during WWII. The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest military honor given by the United States.

PFC Gurke, from Neche, North Dakota was a US Marine, stationed in the South Pacific. In September of 1943, he and a fellow marine were defending a crossroad position when a Japanese hand grenade landed in their foxhole. Gurke had promised his buddy that he would take care of any grenade that might land next to them. He fulfilled this promise by absorbing the grenade explosion with his body. Gurke died as a result of this action. His courage however allowed his fellow marine to continue firing his Browning automatic rifle and maintain effective resistance.

PFC Gurke was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Medal of Honor. The medal is inscribed:

“The President of the United States to PFC Gurke, US Marine Corps, deceased:

For heroism above and beyond the call of duty against enemy Japanese forces at Bouganville, Soloman Islands, September 9, 1943.”

Although the ship is gone, for those of us in North Dakota, the name of PFC Henry Gurke lives on.

Dakota Datebook written by Dave Seifert

Warner, Ronald Phil, “Henry Gurke: An Honored North Dakota Soldier”, North Dakota History; Journal of the Northern Plains, Volume 45, No. 1. Winter, 1978.pg. 34.






This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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