Many of us have attended reunions, those occasions when we gather for fellowship and reminiscences with, for example, former military comrades, classmates and old friends from work.
For five days next week, there’ll be an historic reunion here in Nevada, a get-together of former shipmates from the USS Nevada, the great battleship that served during World War I, was heavily damaged at Pearl Harbor but was repaired and played a critical role during WW II, was a target ship at postwar atomic testing in the Pacific, and purposely sunk by U.S. Navy and Air Force gunfire in 1948.
The reunion, to be held beginning Feb. 5 in Las Vegas, also will commemorate the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Nevada’s commissioning, a ceremony which was held March 11, 1916, at the Boston Navy Yard, according to Chuck Pride, a Nevada military historian, filmmaker, former Army captain and reunion chairman.
“The last USS Nevada reunion was held in 2010 in Reno. I wasn’t there, but I understand there were about a dozen crewmembers in attendance. But for our Las Vegas reunion, I expect only five to be present. The men are getting up there in years, and their ages range from 87 to 93.
“They’ll be coming from Wisconsin, Texas, Arizona and Florida, and this undoubtedly will be the last reunion of the USS Nevada Association,” said Pride, a Henderson resident who served in the Army Medical Corps and has a doctorate in health sciences from Tulane University.
“There’s about another dozen or so Nevada crewmen also living, but they are too old and infirm to travel to Las Vegas.”
At the reunion to be held at the South Point Hotel, local, state and national elected officials will present certificates and awards to the attendees. Also attending will be representatives from state veterans’ organizations and Navy Junior ROTC students. The public is invited free of charge to the reunion, which will include premiere screenings of Pride’s 35-minute film “Battleship Nevada.”
“It took me two years to make the movie, and it consists of actual footage of the USS Nevada under fire during the Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack, the ship in action against the enemy in the Atlantic and Pacific and its role during the Bikini tests and its sinking,” Pride told me.
Also scheduled during the reunion are visits to the Atomic Museum in Las Vegas, Nellis Air Force Base, the Southern Nevada Veterans Home, Veterans Cemetery and the Nevada State Museum at Springs Preserve.
At the State Museum, there will be featured a reenactment of a ceremony led by then-Nevada Gov. Edward P. Carville following the end of WW II in late 1945 that featured the sending of 2,300 silver dollars to each USS Nevada crewman “to let them know how proud Nevada was of their service to the country during the war,” Pride stated.
“Gov. Carville had asked Nevadans to send the dollars to their local banks, and once this was done, they were put in a special magnesium box made by Basic Magnesium of Henderson and sent to the USS Nevada where they were distributed to the crewmen,” Pride said.
The box, now on display at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City, will be on temporary display at the State Museum in Las Vegas along with artifacts from the USS Nevada including some of the ship’s silver service and its bell and wheel.
As for a brief history of the USS Nevada:
Following its 1916 commissioning and sea trials, the 583-foot battleship sailed to the coast of Europe where it joined battleships Oklahoma and Utah in escorting U.S. and allied convoys during WW I. It then saw patrol duty in the Atlantic and Pacific before being homeported at Pearl Harbor in 1940.
On the fateful morning of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Nevada was among 94 Navy ships, including seven other battleships, in the harbor when the Japanese aerial bombardments began. The Nevada suffered grievous wounds but its heroic crew managed to beach her despite explosions and raging fires that wracked the ship. Following the Japanese attack, the ship was given preliminary repairs and sailed under her own steam to Bremerton Navy Yard in Washington State where a $23 million repair, refitting and modernization were conducted for eight months. Three Nevada officers and 47 men were killed at Pearl Harbor, five officers and 104 men were injured, two crewmen received the Medal of Honor and 13 were awarded the Navy Cross.
Following its stay at Bremerton, the Nevada was sent to the Aleutians where it participated in the support of Army landings on Japanese-held islands, and then it was ordered to Europe where it provided gunfire support at the Normandy landings.
Then it was back to the Pacific, where the Nevada supported the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Eleven crewmen were killed when a Japanese “kamikaze” or suicide plane crashed onto its main deck. Two crewmen were killed at another engagement when Japanese shore batteries fired on the ship.
At the end of WW II, the aging and obsolete Nevada was painted bright orange and became the target ship in Operations Crossroads at Bikini Atoll, a test of atomic weapons on dozens of naval vessels. But the still-sturdy battleship refused to sink. Two years later, however, the doughy Nevada — still afloat — was again placed on the “hit” list.
On July 26, 1948, about 65 miles southeast of Hawaii, a Navy armada attempted to sink the Nevada. But when the smoke cleared, the ship hadn’t gone down.
Five days later, at 2 p.m. on July 31, Navy and Air Force aircraft were sent aloft over the Nevada. The battleship received its fateful blow from an aerial torpedo, began a starboard list, capsized and sank by its stern in five miles of water. At the age of 32 1/2, the USS Nevada had at last come to its end.
Those interested in attending the USS Nevada reunion next week in Las Vegas may receive information from email@example.com.
David C. Henley is Publisher Emeritus of the LVN.