War brings names closer to home
PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — The presentation from Navy historian Jim Neuman explained the importance of Dec. 7, 1941, and how a surprise Japanese attack pulled the United States into a global war.
And then came the “moment” when I had to do a double turn after hearing the word Fallon, Nevada, but I’ll explain later.
More than 77 years ago, battleships lined up in Pearl Harbor in a way to represent the Navy’s own Murderers’ Row in late 1941.
Named after the states of Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia, California, Nevada, Tennessee, Maryland and Pennsylvania, the battleships’ sterling handsome hulls protruded into the glass-faced harbor. On the other side of Ford Island was the moored USS Utah. In less than an hour on Dec. 7, an attack carried out by Japanese pilots from the Imperial Japanese Navy shattered the tranquility of a quiet Sunday morning.
With flames and smoke rising above the horizon, all eight battleships lined up in the harbor suffered damaged, but four sunk. Two torpedoes slammed into the USS Utah, causing the battleship to roll over and sink. The USS Nevada managed to sail out of the harbor under its own power despite being hit by one torpedo and at least six bombs.
Many sailors never knew what happened to them because of the swiftness of the attack. The greatest loss of life came aboard the USS Arizona, and to this day, 1,102 sailors and Marines remained entombed in a cold, steel casket.
On the second day of their five-day tour to Honolulu, 18 World War II and two Korean War vets on an Honor Flight Nevada visited Pearl Harbor and the National Cemetery of the Pacific. Once they visited the Arizona, a number of vets shook their heads, cleared their throats and praised the heroics of young sailors and Marines, many of the still in their teens.
The veterans learned only two Nevadans died aboard the Arizona — Richard Eugene Gill and seaman first class Richard Walter Weaver — and their bodies were never recovered.
A feeling of sorrow and life’s cruelty for coincidences befell the visiting veterans.
Gill attended schools in Wells and Reno and eventually earned his high school diploma from Montello High School. According to the USS Arizona Mall Memorial, Gill’s father worked for the railroad and his mother was a homemaker. When Gill enlisted in the Navy in 1940, his family lived in the small Eureka County ranching community of Beowawe where he worked as a grocery clerk.
Neuman specifically revealed the names of the two Nevadans, but he only elaborated about one of the sailors who joined the Navy while a senior in high school.
The 18-year-old Weaver, who was born in in Fallon, joined the Navy on Nov. 27, 1940, and performed the duties of standing watch and serving as a gunner while on the ship.
According to the Navy, his parents were Ray Rhese and “Marge” Lois (McCuistion) Weaver.
According to Weaver’s record, he earned the following awards posthumously: Purple Heart, American Defense Service Medal with Fleet Clasp, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with star and the WWII Victory Medal.
The remains of both sailors were never recovered.
Steve Ranson is editor emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News traveled with World War II and KoreanWar veterans from Northern Nevada last week to Pearl Harbor.