Carrier-based bombers and fighters of the Imperial Japanese Navy had no difficulty finding their targets on Hawaii that terrible morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
At 7:55 a.m., waves of Japanese “Kate” and “Val” bombers and “Zeke” fighters — a total of 354 airplanes — suddenly appeared and wreaked havoc on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor and Army airfields throughout the island.
More than 2,400 American military personnel and civilians were killed and 1,178 wounded that day. Eight battleships, three destroyers, four other warships and 188 aircraft were sunk and destroyed.
The following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt told the nation that Pearl Harbor was a “day of infamy,” and Congress immediately declared war against Japan and her allies, Germany and Italy.
One of the battleships hit hard at Pearl Harbor was the 583-foot, 27-year-old USS Nevada, which carried the designation BB-36, signifying that Nevada was the 36th state to enter the union, in 1864.
Heavily damaged by bombs and torpedoes and ablaze and listing, the Nevada, which was moored with other battleships in Pearl Harbor’s “Battleship Row,” managed to get up steam and enter the main channel.
Fearing it might sink, the ship’s officers ran the Nevada aground at Hospital Point at the southern end of Ford Island while Nevada’s guns continued to fire at enemy aircraft. (The Nevada is credited with downing at least one Japanese plane.)
Less than two hours later, the ship floated free as the tide began to rise, and tugboats then moved the still-burning Nevada back to Hospital Point, where it was beached again.
Three Nevada officers and 47 enlisted men were killed and 109 wounded during the sneak attack. Two of the crew were awarded the Medal of Honor and 13 the Navy Cross.
Although the Nevada’s interior spaces were destroyed and much of the ship sustained severe fire damage, the battleship was deemed salvageable, refloated, partially repaired at the Pearl Harbor Navy Shipyard and towed to the Navy shipyard at Bremerton, Wash., where it was completely repaired, modernized and returned to the fleet seven months later.
Following four more years of combat service in the Atlantic and Pacific, where it was almost sunk by Japanese “kamikaze” aircraft that heavily damaged the ship and killed 12 and injured 60 of the crew during the U.S. invasion of Okinawa, the Nevada was declared obsolete and decommissioned a year after Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II.
However, there was more life in the old battleship, and two years later it was towed to Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands to serve as the target ship in the “Operation Crossroads” atomic bomb testing series. Miraculously, the Nevada survived the blasts and almost immediately became known as “the ship that would not sink.”
But its jig was finally up in two more years, when it was sunk by U.S. Navy and Air Force aircraft about 70 miles southwest of Hawaii.
Today, 99 years after its launching, 72 years following its near-demise at Pearl Harbor and 65 years after sinking in the Pacific, the USS Nevada remains an icon for countless Nevadans.
Many of the ship’s artifacts are housed in the Nevada State Museum and governor’s office in Carson City, a USS Nevada memorial is displayed on the state Capitol grounds and several crew reunions have been held in Carson and Reno.
And just this week, a USS Nevada commemorative book written by Gardnerville artist and military historian Wayne Scarpaci is being released to the public.
Scarpaci, who has lived with his wife, Swarn, in Gardnerville for 10 years and has painted the USS Nevada as well as other ships with Nevada-related names such as the USS Carson City, USS Minden, USS Reno and USS Las Vegas Victory, is an Army veteran who saw service in West Germany during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. This year, he set up the art gallery aboard the battleship USS Iowa museum ship that is home-ported in Los Angeles harbor.
His book, titled “Battleship Nevada: The Extraordinary Ship of Firsts,” contains 60 pages of text about the Nevada’s history and color renditions of eight of his paintings of the ship, as well as three drawings and 112 photographs.
Scarpaci gave the book its title “because the USS Nevada had many firsts during its long career at sea,” he said.
“The Nevada, for example, was the first ship in its generation to have total protective armor ... its turrets, engines, superstructure, powder magazines, gun controls and bridge were completely wrapped with heavy steel,” he explained.
“Its 14-inch guns could fire the heaviest projectiles at the farthest targets ... the projectiles weighed 2,000 pounds and they could reach 22 miles distant,” he said.
“And the Nevada was the first ship to be raised and reclaimed after the Pearl Harbor attack and the first battleship to be repaired at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington,” he added.
Scarpaci also has devised a color logo commemorating the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Nevada’s launching in Quincy, Mass.
The logo contains the Nevada state flag, a Scarpaci painting of the ship and the words “Battleship USS Nevada 100th Anniversary July 11, 1914-July 11, 2014.
Scarpaci said he also is publishing posters commemorating the ship’s upcoming 100th anniversary and that he is available for speaking engagements about the USS Nevada and its history.
David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News, a sister publication of the Nevada Appeal.