David Henley: USS Nevada supported D-Day landings 75 years ago
Thursday marks the 75th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy in northern France during the last year of World War II.
More than 156,000 American and allied troops and 283 warships, including the battleship USS Nevada, participated in the landings named “Operation Overlord,” which was the largest amphibious invasion in history and led to the liberation of France and the defeat and surrender of Germany on May 7, 1945. Less than four months later, Japan formally surrendered, bringing WW II to a close.
The D-Day landings and earlier combat operations in German-occupied France have always brought poignant reminders to my wife, Ludie, and her family. Five weeks before D-Day, Ludie’s second cousin, Private First Class Dean E. Kail, a 19-year-old Army draftee and parachutist, was shot to death in mid-air over France by German snipers during his descent from an Army Air Force C-47 transport plane. Kail, who would have been 93 years old this year, was from Yakima, Washington and a member of the 515th Parachute Regiment, 13th Airborne Division. He had made plans to attend the University of Washington, his parents’ alma mater, when released from the Army.
PFC Kail rests under a marble cross making his name, rank and units alongside 5,255 other American dead at the Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial which lies on the banks of the Mozelle River in northern France. Not far from Epinal is the Normandy American Cemetery at Coleville-sur-Mar overlooking Omaha Beach where lie the remains under marble crosses and Stars of David of 2,400 Americans who lost their lives on D-Day as well as 9,387 other Americans who took part in the defeat of Germany.
As for the USS Nevada, it joined the other 282 allied ships that provided naval gunfire, troop and equipment transport and other support of the D-Day landings on Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches.
Launched at the Boston Navy Yard on July 11, 1914, the 583-foot Nevada had been partially sunk during the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which left 50 Nevada crewmen dead or missing and 109 wounded.
The battleship, however, was refloated, towed to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington for repairs and modernization, then sent to the Aleutian Islands where its big guns supported the landings of 12,000 soldiers on Japanese-held Attu and Kiska islands, and then sailed to the coast of France to support the D-Day landings.
During the invasion, Nevada’s 10 14-inch guns battered German land fortifications and emplacements as enemy shells fell harmlessly around her and mines floated nearby, none of them striking their target. The Nevada expended 876 rounds from her main batteries and 3,500 from her five-inch guns. Nine U.S. Navy warships and 11 large landing craft were sunk during the invasion. More than 30,000 Germans were killed or wounded and 15,000 taken prisoner.
Following D-Day, the Nevada’s guns supported allied landing operations in the Mediterranean before the battleship returned to the Pacific where it led the last WW II battles against the Japanese. In mid-July 1948, the Nevada, which had been decommissioned following the war due to old age and obsolescence and had been heavily damaged and was still radioactive after serving as the main target ship during the post-war atomic testing on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, was purposely sunk by U.S. Air Force and Navy gunfire approximately 65 miles southwest of Hawaii.
Many USS Nevada artifacts including its silver service are on permanent display in the USS Nevada Room at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City.
Meanwhile, preparations to commemorate the D-Day anniversary tomorrow at the Normandy beaches are complete. President Donald Trump, who has been on a state visit to Great Britain, will join leaders of other allied nations whose military forces were present at the Normandy landings. Following his two-hour Normandy visit, Trump will return to his country club in Ireland to continue a golfing interlude.
Thousands of WW II veterans, Europeans and tourists are expected to attend the D-Day and week-long events which include flyovers of allied WW II and present-day military aircraft and visits to Normandy-area villages, museums, churches, WW II military airfields and fortifications, cemeteries, ports, landing beaches and battlefields.
Most of the participants and witnesses to the D-Day landings are in their 90s or have died, and it will not be long before there will be no one left to describe in person what happened at Normandy that historic day 75 years ago.
David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard.