PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii - In December, Americans will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other Hawaiian military installations that killed 2,388 service members and civilians and plunged the nation into World War II.
Hundreds of thousands of visitors travel here each year to view memorials dedicated to that devastating raid at 7:55 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941. Among these monuments are two that honor the warship and crew of the famed battleship USS Nevada that was heavily damaged and nearly sank on that terrible day.
One of these monuments, a large, whitewashed concrete slab emblazoned with the words "USS Nevada," is located in the waters of Battleship Row near Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, where the Nevada was tied up at Quay F-8 immediately east of battleships Arizona, Tennessee, West Virginia, Maryland and Oklahoma before the attack. Close by the Nevada marker is the dramatic USS Arizona Memorial which sits over the underwater wreckage of the Arizona that contains the remains of its 1,177 crew members who lost their lives the morning of Dec. 7.
The second memorial, consisting of another prominent USS Nevada signboard and a bronze tablet honoring the 50 Nevada crewmen killed and l05 injured during the attack, is located at Hospital Point on the southern end of Ford Island where the 583-foot, 29,000-ton Nevada was purposely run aground after receiving direct hits from Japanese torpedo bombers.
Following the surprise Japanese raid, the Nevada had gotten up steam, left its mooring and was attempting to reach the ocean. But the Japanese bombs proved so deadly that the ship's officers, fearing the blazing and listing Nevada might capsize or sink in the channel, thus closing the waterway to shipping, decided to beach her on the hard sea bottom.
Two hours after the beaching, however, the Nevada floated free as the tide began to rise. By now, the Japanese planes had returned to their six carriers offshore and harbor tugs were able to move the shattered Nevada and beach her a second time on the sandy bottom of Waipio Point adjacent to a cane field.
Fires continued to burn aboard the Nevada until 11 p.m., and during this period the injured and dead were transported ashore by launches from nearby ships and shore stations. Two Nevada crewmen were subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor and 15 received the Navy Cross for heroism during the attacks.
Following temporary repairs in Pearl Harbor, the Nevada, which was commissioned in 1916, was towed to the Puget Sound Navy Shipyard in Washington State to undergo a $23 million refitting and modernization that lasted seven and a half months.
By late 1942, the ship was back in action, joining the fleet and U.S. Army in clearing out 7,600 Japanese troops that had landed in the Aleutians. Then came convoy duty in the Atlantic and participation in the Normandy landings and allied invasion of German-held Europe.
Returning to the Pacific in 1945, the Nevada supported the landings at Iwo Jima and Okinawa and was hit several times by Japanese "kamikaze" or suicide planes that crashed on her decks, killing 14 and injuring 48 crew members.
After occupation duty in Tokyo Bay following Japan's surrender on Aug. 14, 1945, the Nevada, by now nearly 30 years old, was decommissioned and towed to Bikini Atoll in mid-1946 to serve as a target ship for the testing of nuclear bombs.
Miraculously, the Nevada stayed afloat. Two years later, though, she was towed to an area approximately 65 miles southwest of Hawaii to meet her fate. Still radioactive from the Bikini tests and too elderly for any use, the 32-year-old dreadnought rolled over and sank following two days of intense naval gunfire.
Today, 95 years after its launching at the Charleston Navy Yard in Boston and 69 years after the Pearl Harbor attacks, the Nevada is memorialized not only in Hawaii but in the state of Nevada as well.
The Nevada State Museum in Carson City displays the ship's original sterling silver service, uniforms of its early-day crews, portions of its wooden deck, a large made-in-Nevada chest that contained Carson City-minted silver dollars presented to its crew during World War II, a model of the ship and an extensive photo collection.
The ship's bell and wheel that had been part of the Carson City museum display are now in Las Vegas, awaiting installation in the new Southern Nevada Historical Museum that is currently under construction, according to Bob Nylen, history curator at the Carson museum.
The Carson City museum also sells brass and silver USS Nevada medallions for $15 and $60, respectively, and a book detailing the history of the ship. The museum is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but only on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays because of mandated state budget cuts, Nylen said.
• David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News.