One of the greatest warships that sailed for the U.S. Navy is etched into Silver State history.
The USS Nevada first saw action during World War I and then extensively in World War II.
Hundreds of sailors served on the USS Nevada during her 31 years, including 100-year-old Richard “Dick” Ramsey.
Ramsey placed a wreath at the USS Nevada memorial on Sunday which was attended by a Navy honor guard and commanding officer at Naval Air Station Fallon, the director of the Nevada Department of Veterans Services (NDVS) and the chaplain from the Nevada State Veterans Home in Sparks.
John Galloway, director of the USS Nevada Project, organized the event and arranged for Ramsey’s three-day trip to Reno and then Carson City. Ramsey lives in Santa Clarita, Calif., with his daughter, Patrice Whitbread.
Over the years Galloway been fascinated with the USS Nevada. He said he wants the world to know more about the iconic warship.
“One of the USS Nevada’s many finest hours came at Pearl Harbor, but few know it. When you mention the attack on Pearl Harbor, people immediately think of the USS Arizona, as they should,” Galloway said at the USS Nevada Memorial. “Having lost 1,177 crewmen of the 2,403 lost during the attack, it is only fitting. But if not for the actions of the USS Nevada, many more would have died.
“Moored behind the USS Arizona when she detonated, the Nevada rescued Arizona survivors as she mobilized, and in doing so, the Nevada took fire, relentless fire, intended for other targets. The Nevada saved lives by mobilizing, but she also saved herself, for the heat radiating from the burning Arizona was so intense that it superheated the sides of the Nevada. Had the USS Nevada not mobilized, the ship’s fuel and munitions would have detonated.”
If the fuel and munitions had detonated, Galloway said the USS Nevada would have sunk in place with the other battleships.
According to historian and retired newspaper publisher David C. Henley, co-author of the book “Legacies of the Silver State: Nevada Goes to War,” the 583-foot USS Nevada was launched at the Boston Navy Yard on July 11, 1914. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 27 years later left 50 Nevada crewmen dead or missing and 109 wounded. The battleship, however, was refloated and towed to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington for repairs and modernization, and the Navy sent the Nevada to the Aleutian Islands where its big guns supported the landings of 12,000 soldiers on Japanese-held Attu and Kiska islands. The ship sailed to the coast of France during the spring of 1944 to support the D-Day landings.
Ramsey enlisted in the Navy on March 16, 1943, during a year when fighting intensified on both the European continent and in the western Pacific Ocean. Call it coincidence or fate, Ramsey was a 20-year-old sailor who was born on the state of Nevada’s birthday, Oct. 31, 1923, in Brooklyn, New York. Although he was not involved with the gallantry of the USS Nevada at Pearl Harbor, Ramsey was an eyewitness to history when the battleship was part of the armada during the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion of Normandy.
“I was on the USS Nevada for 31 months, and my first action was in Normandy. We had battle station, and everybody was secured,” Ramsey said. “We ate K-rations just like the troops, and initially Eisenhower had requested some big battle guns a blazing.”
Ramsey, who was a pipefitter’s helper at the Brooklyn Navy Yard until he enlisted, had worked on the construction of the USS Iowa and Missouri and was part of the crew that completed repair work on the South Dakota. Once he had undergone his 10 weeks of boot camp at Naval Station Great Lakes north of Chicago, he reported to the USS Nevada which was undergoing repairs and being retrofitted with more guns to provide a better air defense at the Bethlehem Steel Company Shipyard on the San Francisco Bay.
Ramsey said on-the-job training began on board of the Nevada from the first day he was assigned as powder man. Training was around-the-clock and exhausting, but Ramsey said the training paid off at Normandy. Once assigned to the Nevada, Ramsey and the other sailors learned more of the ship’s history and how it became the only battleship to get underway at Pearl Harbor. More than 2,200 sailors — both officers and enlisted — made it a crowded ship, and Ramsey said there was “less elbow room” in the cramped 5-inch gun turrets when sailors would man their stations.
Henley said it may been the firepower at Normandy that further distinguished the battleship which was nicknamed the “Invincible Nevada.”
After D-Day, the USS Nevada was reassigned to southern France and Ramsey said the three oldest battleships in the Navy — the Texas, Arkansas and Nevada — each had specific tasks during Operation Dragoon.
“Our guns destroyed gun emplacements defending Toulon,” Ramsey said.
The Nevada received orders Sept. 2 to leave Europe and return to the eastern U.S. for repairs and modernization. Ramsey said one of the worst hurricanes to hit along the East Coast is still vivid for Ramsey.
“We left Europe and hit the worst storm in a 100 years,” Ramsey recalled. “We were caught up in the storm as we headed back to Norfolk, Virginia.”
Once at the Norfolk Navy Yard, the Nevada received 14-inch gun barrels from the USS Arizona. Galloway said the Nevada had worn out her gun barrels.
“Three of the Nevada’s gun barrels were replaced with barrels exhumed from the remains of the Arizona, allowing the USS Arizona to fight on, with the help of the USS Nevada,” Galloway said. “So Nevada and Arizona, both the ships and the states, are kindred spirits connected forever in history. I am humbled and proud to say that, before his death in 2018, Sen. John McCain of Arizona sent me a letter thanking me for my efforts.”
The USS Nevada received orders for a new mission in early 1945. Once repairs were finished, the Nevada left Norfolk, transited the Panama Canal and then headed toward Iwo Jima, site of one of the hardest fought battles in the Pacific.
“We went to Iwo Jima as the gunnery flagship,” Ramsey said. “We were there for 16 days, and we saw the U.S. flag on top of the mountain.”
U.S. Marines had raised the flag atop Mount Suribachi. On the small island about 760 miles south of Japan.
“Then we went to Okinawa,” Ramsey continued. “The Navy had 10,000 casualties, more than the troops had at Normandy.”
The Battle of Okinawa, labeled the bloodiest battle in the Pacific, involved more than 1,500 ships from April 1 to June 22, 1945. Ramsey said the initial invasion of Okinawa, code named Operation Iceberg, was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater. During an attack, Japanese planes slammed into the USS Nevada, killing 11 sailors and wounding another 49.
In less than three months, though, the United States dropped a pair of atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, and less than three weeks later, an Instrument of Surrender was signed on Sept. 2 on the deck of the USS Missouri at Tokyo Bay between the Japanese government and the United States and its allies.
Ramsey, who left the Navy in 1946, received numerous citations and medals to include the European Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Medal, the WWII Victory Medal and the French Legion of Honor.
Capt. Shane Tanner, commanding officer at Naval Air Station Fallon, said sailors like Ramsey have proudly stood the watch for 248 years by “protecting our shores, enabling prosperity by maintaining freedom of the seas, and when history called upon him, stood firm in the face of brutal tyranny.”
“I am humbled and inspired by their service and their sacrifice,” Tanner said. “For their service inspires the next generation to raise their hand and take that sacred oath. And their sacrifice is why we come together today to remember why we love this great nation.”
Tanner said it was his great honor to be at the USS Nevada Memorial for the hallowed ceremony.
“Your unwavering patriotism and service is the engine driving our republic forward,” Tanner said.
Chaplain Greg Watson from the Nevada State Veterans Home and Fred Wagar, director of the Nevada Department of Veterans Services, offered solemn words for the battleship and sailors who served her. Wagar provided a synopsis of the USS Nevada history. Civil Air Patrol cadet Abigail Matsuyoshi called for the honor guard to post the colors an led the congregation with the Pledge of Allegiance.
Ramsey also participated in a pregame ceremony at the Nov. 4 Hawaii vs. Nevada football game and was presented a U.S. flag and framed picture of the USS Nevada by University of Nevada, Reno President Brian Sandoval.
“It is so humbling to be in the presence of Mr. Ramsey, a true American,” Sandoval said. “He served on the USS Nevada. We are humbled and honored to have Mr. Ramsey here and happy for the students who could see a war hero.”