By Judge Chuck Weller

The people of the State of Nevada have always had a close relationship with the battleship named in its honor.  The battleship U.S.S. Nevada was launched on July 11, 1914.  Miss Eleanor Anne Seibert, the 11-year-old niece of Nevada’s Governor, Tasker L. Oddie, wielded the ceremonial bottle of champagne smashed on her bow.[1]  Governor Oddie addressed the people of Nevada with these words: “ On the occasion of the launching of the great battleship Nevada, speaking for you and to you, I believe we all share a pride that the nation has selected Nevada as the name of a ship that will be one of the greatest of our Navy or of any navy.  There is no citizen of the state who will not follow the vessel’s career with close, personal interest, whatever port she may enter and whatever sea she may sail.”

When the people of Nevada learned that the great navy ship was to bear the name of their state, they determined to make a fitting present to the ship.  The mines of Tonopah contributed 250 pounds of silver and the mines of Goldfield contributed sufficient gold to produce a 65 piece silver service including a fifteen gallon punchbowl and twenty-four punch cups, all lined with gold.  One silver tray is engraved with an image of Lahontan Dam.  Another bears the engraved image of Abraham Lincoln who was President when Nevada became a state.  Another tray depicts the mines at Tonopah and yet another portrays Virginia City.  Other pieces include goblets, candelabra and a tea set.

Before being presented to the ship, the silver service went on a fifteen-day tour of the state in a private train car with stops in Carson City, Tonopah, Goldfield, Las Vegas, Caliente, Pioche, McGill, Ely, Elko, Winnemucca, Lovelock, Sparks, Reno and Yerington.  The population of Nevada was about 80,000 at the time.  Forty thousand viewed the silver service  during its tour. The silver service and a large Nevada state flag sponsored by the Nevada Women’s Relief Corps were presented to the ship at her commissioning in March 1916.

In the lead up to what would become known as World War II, the Japanese began a conquest of China in 1932.  In July 1941 the Japanese invaded French Indochina, an area now known as Vietnam.  The United States responded to this aggression by freezing all Japanese assets in America and by halting all American shipments of crude oil and high octane gasoline to Japan.  Japan, an island nation, had only a little oil and was dependent upon American imports.  Japan was in a position where it had either to comply with American demands that it withdraw from conquered territories or to obtain another source of oil.  Japan decided to seize the oil fields of Sumatra which was then a Dutch colony.  The primary threat to the success of such action was the American naval fleet based at Pearl Harbor.

At the beginning of World War II the strength of a navy was measured in battleships, which had the biggest guns and the thickest armor of any ship afloat. The eight battleships of the America’s Pacific fleet were the primary target of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  All were sunk or damaged.

The U.S.S. Nevada was one of those ships.  At eight o’clock that Sunday morning her 23 man band began to playing the Star Spangled Banner on the fantail of the ship while the American flag was being raised for the day. As they played, a Japanese plane launched its torpedo at the U.S.S. Arizona before flying over and spraying the fantail of the Nevada with machinegun fire.  The flag was torn and the ship’s deck was perforated by bullets but none of the musicians were wounded.[2]  Moments later, as men ran to their battle stations, the Nevada was hit by two bombs, one of which caused a portion of the ship’s bridge to melt. A torpedo dropped by a Japanese plane blew a 45 by 35 foot hole in the side of the ship.  Crewmen shot down three Japanese planes.  A dozen exploding bombs just missed the ship.  Around her, other ships were exploding, capsizing and engulfed in fire.

The crew of the Nevada struggled to take their ship out to sea where there was room to fight and maneuver against the aerial assault.  It usually takes four tugboats to move a big battleship into position to move toward the sea but in the urgency of the moment the Nevada got underway without assistance. Gathering speed she sailed past the blown apart battleship Arizona. Sailors on the U.S.S. Oklahoma, which was in the process of capsizing, yelled out “Go get ‘em Nevada!”  The Nevada was the only battleship to get underway that violent morning.  She literally led the United States into World War II.

As the Nevada moved toward the sea, she diverted the attention of many of the attacking Japanese dive bombers from the rest of the fleet.  Japanese pilots hoped to sink her in the harbor entrance.  Machine gun fire and bombs smashed into the ship.  Amidst explosions, fires, noise, smoke, destruction, danger and death the men of the Nevada fought back, shooting down another Japanese plane.   She was struck by at least five more times bombs and rocked by several near misses.  Sinking, the ship moved out of the navigation channel and was purposefully beached on the western side of the entrance to Pearl Harbor.  Fifty of her crewmen were dead.  One hundred nine were wounded.  The average age of the crew that morning was 19 ½.

The crew of the U.S.S. Nevada received more Medals of Honor (2), including the first Medal of Honor awarded during World War II, and Navy Crosses (13 for Navy personnel and 2 for Marine Corps personnel) for heroism that day than has the crew of any other ship in the history of the United States Navy.  Seven destroyer escort ships that served during World War II were named for men who died on the Nevada at Pearl Harbor.

Efforts to bring the Nevada back into service began quickly. The ship was moved while still afire and beached again at a place, now known as “Nevada Point,” away from the main channel. By February 12, 1942 enough temporary patches and other repairs had been made to allow the ship to be re-floated.  After 65 more days of temporary repairs in a Pearl Harbor dry-dock the ship traveled under its own power to Bremerton, Washington for seven and a half months of additional repairs and modernization.

In June 1942 the Japanese invaded and seized American territory, two of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands: Attu and Kiska.  A year later the US reclaimed the islands in an attack supported by the ten 14 inch guns of the Nevada which destroyed enemy artillery, mortars and machinegun positions.

The Nevada moved through the Panama Canal to the Atlantic Ocean were it served to protect convoys of ships taking war materials from the U.S. to England and other allies.

When the Americans, British and Canadians landed in Europe to free that continent from Hitler’s occupation, the U.S.S. Nevada again led the way.  In the early hours of D-Day, June 6, 1944, the Nevada, which was capable of shooting through seven feet of reinforced concrete, bombarded German gun emplacements and the sea wall on the coast of Normandy, France.  After allied troops arrived on French soil, the Nevada supported them by destroying German guns, equipment and troop concentrations.  She was straddled 27 times that day by shells fired from German shore batteries but she was never hit.  Her crew stayed at general quarters for 79 hours.   The Nevada showed why her guns were referred to as “swimming pool makers” by destroying, in one twenty minute bombardment, 90 German tanks and 20 trucks at a distance of 15 miles.

After expending all of her ammunition she returned to England for more and then rushed back to the battle.  In six days supporting the Normandy invasion the Nevada fired into German positions more than 800 tons of steel retribution, including 1,216 fourteen-inch shells each weighing over 1,200 pounds and 3,531 five-inch shells each weighing more than 50 pounds.

In August 1944 the Allies invaded Nazi occupied Europe at another beachhead in Southern France. The Nevada supported that invasion by dueling with enemy battleship guns and fortified land based guns.  The Nevada was untouched by enemy fire while in Europe.  The only significant damage she suffered was that the metal linings of her gun barrels were worn out from so much firing.  The Nevada’s gun barrel linings were replaced in New York.

On July 22, 1944, a little more than a month after D-Day, Nevada’s Governor Edward P. Carville asked all Nevadans to contribute silver dollars to the officers and crew of the U.S.S. Nevada in tribute for their actions.  All banks in the state accepted the gifts.  2,368 silver dollars were collected.  The biggest war industry in the state, Clark County’s Basic Magnesium, Inc., fashioned and contributed a solid magnesium chest two feet long, one foot high and eighteen inches wide to hold the coins. An engraved silver plaque on the chest was made by inmates at the Nevada State Prison. The Governor promised each man on the Nevada a silver dollar and a cigar.

While at Norfolk, Virginia, on November 19, 1944, the crew was assembled on deck.  The ship’s band played patriotic marches.  The Captain related the battle history of the ship and described the efforts of the people of Nevada to give each man a token of the State’s pride in their accomplishments.  The magnesium chest was brought out and each officer and man on the Nevada was given a silver dollar.  They were carried as good luck pieces in future battles.

After repair the ship returned to the Pacific Ocean.  She was the flagship of a= six-battleship bombardment group for the invasion of Iwo Jima and was in view of the famous flag raising on Mount Suribachi.

The Nevada bombarded the island of Okinawa as American forces successfully captured that island close to mainland Japan.  On March 27, 1945 before daybreak the Nevada received her first enemy inflicted damage since Pearl Harbor when she was struck on her main deck aft by a crashing kamikaze suicide plane.  Eleven of the Nevada’s sailors were killed by the attack.  Shortly before sunset that day twelve burials at sea with full military honor s were conducted on deck, eleven for the Americans and one for the Japanese pilot. The officers and crew of the Nevada acted with courtesy and decency at a time when resentment and anger might have been expected.   What class.

The Nevada earned seven battle stars for her service in the war.  After the war, the Nevada participated in Operation Magic Carpet, the effort to bring millions of American soldiers home from battlefields all around the world.  From mid-September 1945 through mid-February 1946 she made many trips between the Pearl Harbor and the west coast harbors, bringing home tens of thousands of American troops anxious to resume civilian life.

In 1946, the U.S. military decided to test the effects of the newly created atomic bomb on a fleet of ships in an effort called Operation Crossroads.  Nearly 100 American, Japanese and German ships of every variety were assembled at Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific for the experiment.  The U.S.S. Nevada was painted bright orange and placed in the middle of the assembled ships as the “Bikini Bulls-eye,” the target for the airplane carrying the A-bomb.  Subjected to the explosion of one atomic bomb dropped from an airplane on July 1 and, 24 days later, another suspended underwater, the Nevada was still afloat, but damaged and radioactive.

The Navy decided to sink the Nevada in deep water 65 miles southwest of Hawaii during July 1948.  Explosive charges were detonated within the ship but they failed to cause her to sink.  Radar guided missiles were fired at the ship.  Destroyers fired hundreds of five-inch shells into her thick armor.  Rockets from fighter aircraft slammed into the Nevada.  She refused to sink.  Salvo after salvo of 16 inch shells was fire broadside from the battleship Iowa into the defenseless Nevada.  She continued to float.  Three cruisers bombarded the ship from close range.  Navy dive bombers dropped explosives on her deck.  Though heavily damaged, she would not go down.  After five days of effort, the U.S.S. Nevada was finally sent beneath the waves by a torpedo launched from a Navy plane.

Nevada’s pride in the battleship which bore the state’s name did not end with World War II or the sinking of the great ship.   The silver tea service was aboard the ship when attacked at Pearl Harbor and removed during repairs for the rest of the war. On September 2, 1946, the first anniversary of the defeat of Japan, the silver service was returned to the state of Nevada in a ceremony broadcast by Reno’s KOH radio while 28 Navy F6F Hellcat fighter planes flew overhead.  It remains on proud display at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City.

The large Nevada state flag that was given to the ship in 1916 by the Nevada Women’s Relief Corps had gone down with the ship during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Recovered by divers, the oil covered flag was discarded and left behind when the Nevada traveled to Bremerton, Washington for repairs.  A civilian dockworker found and preserved the flag for several years until the Nevada re-entered Pearl Harbor.  In May 1945, he returned the flag to the ship.  On Tuesday, June 19, 1945 the Navy presented the flag to the State of Nevada as the Hawthorne Navy Ammunition Depot band played “Anchors Aweigh” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.”  It is also housed at the Nevada State Museum. The Museum also has the U.S.S. Nevada’s bell, wheel, the American flag that flew over the ship at Normandy, the ship’s plaque, and the magnesium chest.

In 1995 the Gifted and Talented student program at Vaughn Middle School in Reno, under the guidance of teacher Ellyn Fuchs, dedicated a memorial to the Nevada on the lawn of the State Capitol that is an exact copy of the memorial erected on Nevada Point at Pearl Harbor.

When Governor Carville was collecting silver dollars for the Nevada in 1944 he said that he would “like to shake the hand of each member of the Nevada’s crew” but added that the handshake “will have to wait until later” because the ship needed to hurry back to the war. Governor Carville’s desire to honor the crew was fulfilled 64 years later on October 8, 2010 when the Reno Council of the Navy League of the United States arranged for Governor Jim Gibbons to shake the hand of each crew member gathered for their 57th reunion.

On March 29, 2011, Nevada’s Governor, Brian Sandoval, had the 190 pound wheel from the battleship Nevada’s bridge mounted on the wall behind his desk in the Governor’s formal office in the State Capitol building in Carson City.

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[1] The shattered champagne bottle, in the decorative case in which it was held during the 1914 christening, is now proudly displayed in the Ward Room of the current U.S.S. Nevada (SSBN-733) a nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine.

[2] The scene of the Nevada’s band rushing through the National Anthem while being strafed with machine gun fire is accurately depicted in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!