RENO, Nev. >> As Nevada celebrates its 150th year of statehood, one of her storied namesakes is marking an anniversary as well.
One hundred years ago Friday — July 11, 1914 — the battleship USS Nevada (BB-36) "kissed the waves" for the first time with these words from Gov. Tasker Oddie at the Fore River Shipbuilding Corporation in Quincy, Mass.
"I believe we all share a pride that the nation has selected Nevada as the name of a ship that will be one of the greatest of our navy or of any navy. There is no citizen of the state who will not follow the vessel’s career with close, personal interest, whatever port she may enter and whatever sea she may sail."
Oddie’s 10-year-old niece, Eleanor Ann Siebert, christened the battleship with a bottle of Champagne, and so began the story of the "unsinkable Nevada," which would go on to endure two world wars, the attack on Pearl Harbor, a kamikaze strike and two nuclear bombs.
The christening bottle used by Ms. Siebert was scheduled to be in Carson City Friday morning, part of a ceremony to commemorate the battleship’s 100th anniversary. A new plaque was also scheduled to be unveiled at the USS Nevada Memorial.
The effort for the new plaque was led by a group of former students from Vaughn Middle School in Reno, who in the early 1990s spearheaded the effort to have the memorial built in the first place. The memorial itself is an exact replica of the one at Hospital Point at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The old plaque, which is adjacent to the memorial, lists the names of those killed during the attack, the medal winners who served on board, and the ship’s honors. It has become weathered and virtually unreadable during the past 21 years.
"I saw the pictures of it recently and it looked like it had moss growing on it and you couldn’t read the names anymore," said Joe Uccelli, who was part of teacher Ellyn MacKenzie’s gifted-and-talented history program at Vaughn. "In talking with Ellyn, we learned we’ve got the 100th birthday coming and we’ve got the opportunity to do something about it."
The middle schoolers started the project in 1991 after a presentation on flags from local historian Jim Ferrigan, who urged them to lead an effort to restore the USS Nevada’s flag, which was in storage at the Nevada State Museum. After they had the flag successfully restored (and it is on display now at the museum), they turned their attention to the memorial.
In 1914, the Nevada and her sister ship, Oklahoma, were the newest and most-advanced battleships in the U.S. fleet.
Nevadans were excited to have a namesake ship and a 65-piece silver service set was produced, crafted from 250 pounds of silver from Tonopah and gold from the mines of Goldfield.
The Nevada did not see battle during World War I, but that changed drastically at the onset of World War II.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the Nevada was one of eight battleships in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese launched their surprise attack in the early morning hours.
The Nevada was the only battleship to get underway during the attack. It was hit with at least six Japanese bombs and a torpedo which opened a 45-by-35 foot gash in the side of the ship.
Crew members manning the guns were the first to shoot down an enemy plane.
As the Nevada moved out, the Japanese turned their attack to her. Fearing she might be sunk and block the harbor, she was ordered to run aground, which she did at Hospital Point.
At the end of the battle, the Nevada suffered 50 deaths and 140 wounded. The names of the 50 soldiers killed are listed on the USS Nevada Memorial at the Capitol in Carson City.
The Nevada eventually was refloated and taken to the shipyards at Bremerton, Wash., for repairs.
She was off the beaches of France for the Normandy invasion in 1944. The crew fired a continuous volley of shells for three consecutive days in support of the allied assaults.
Nevada Gov. James Carville, proud of the accomplishments of the state’s namesake battleship, asked Nevadans to contribute silver dollars that would be given to the officers and crew of the battleship. More than 2,300 were collected. They were placed in a magnesium chest, the magnesium mined at Gabbs and processed at Basic in Southern Nevada.
When the Nevada returned to the states for repair, Joseph Kievit, a University of Nevada student before the war and an officer on the Nevada, was charged with traveling to the state to secure the chest containing the silver dollars.
On Nov. 19, 1944, the crew was assembled on deck, and all were presented with a silver dollar.
The Nevada’s war service was not done, however. It was sent to the Pacific, where it was involved in the invasion of Iwo Jima and the battle of Okinawa.
At Okinawa, the ship was hit by a Japanese kamikaze airplane, resulting in the deaths of 11 crewmen.
With the end of World War II, the Nevada was deemed too old to continue in service and was selected as a target ship for nuclear bomb testing at the Bikini Islands.
Despite two atomic bomb blasts, the ship was still afloat, though damaged and radioactive. She was towed back to Pearl Harbor and decommissioned on Aug. 29, 1946.
In July 1948, the Navy decided to dispose of the Nevada by sinking her in deep water 65 miles southwest of Hawaii, but the "unsinkable Nevada" proved stubborn. After five days of bombardment ranging from explosives inside the ship to 5-inch shells from other ships, the Nevada would not go down.
Finally, an aerial torpedo dropped at midship sent the Nevada to the depths.
For those who served on the Nevada, there was a sense of pride that continues to this day.
"They are very proud of their battleship, they’re very proud of their service during World War II," said Ellen Derby McCollum, president of the USS Nevada Reunion Association and the daughter of crewman Woodrow Wilson Derby, who served on the Nevada throughout World War II. "I know they’ll be proud to know their memorial (in Carson City) is being restored and that people still remember their service."
Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com