How the Battleship USS Nevada and I Survived World War II

July 7, 2017 Topic: History Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: World War IIBattleshipWar In The PacificD-Day

How the Battleship USS Nevada and I Survived World War II

A former sailor recalls his ship’s participation in one of the most momentous events of World War II, from Pearl Harbor, to Normandy, to Iwo Jima.

While we were patrolling in those waters, our communication center picked up a message from Tokyo Rose: “Hello, Nevada! We know that you are here!”

One day some crew member reported a grinding and scraping noise along the starboard bow and hull—a scraping noise that slowly moved along the ship’s side. Suddenly, someone called out, “Mine chain!” I don’t remember how it was removed, but those few anxious moments certainly prompted me to look toward the heavens and pray.

While patrolling the East China Sea, we had to ride out a slashing storm front at the outer edge of a violent typhoon brewing miles away. Our navigator’s report informed us that the inclinometer read a “roll” of 21 degrees. The Nevada was a 30,000-ton vessel. Imagine what smaller ships like destroyers must have put up with in heavy storms and high winds!

Our ship and several other damaged ships were ordered to report to Pearl Harbor for permanent repairs, overhaul, and updated fire-control systems. Rounding the southern tip of Okinawa, the Nevada joined up with the battleship Maryland, the cruiser Pensacola, and several destroyers and transport ships. We all shared a common tragedy—extensive damage. This small, sad-looking group stopped at Guam in the Marianas for refueling, emergency repairs, and provisions before setting course for Hawaii.

On Friday, April 20, 1945, the Nevada was moored in Pearl Harbor at Fox 3––the berthing site of the battleship USS California at the time of the December 7 attack. We were originally supposed to be repaired stateside, but a shipyard strike was affecting the entire West Coast region.

For two months the days and nights were filled with the blue flames of cutting torches going over the Nevada from stem to stern, and there was the rapid clatter of air hammers and the smell of freshly sprayed paint. Qualified personnel were given liberty and an opportunity for schooling.

Accompanied by two destroyers, the Murray and the Taylor, the Nevada and her refreshed crew finally left Pearl Harbor and arrived early in the morning of June 18, 1945, at the small coral island of Emidj, part of Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Our assignment was to harass and silence Emidj, where there was a Japanese garrison, an airfield, and radio tower. The Jaluit garrison was previously bypassed and kept isolated after its neighboring islands, Kwajalein and Eniwetok, were assaulted and taken by U.S. Marines.

The Nevada and her two destroyer escorts divided their gunfire assignments, and both primary and secondary targets on Emidj were quickly ranged and destroyed. The Nevada then withdrew, turned northwest, and stopped at the U.S. base at Saipan in the Marianas. We refueled, took on ammo and provisions, and received orders to return to Okinawa.

Before we got there, however, we were relieved to receive word that the battle for Okinawa was over. On June 30, we joined forces with two other Pearl Harbor survivors, the California and West Virginia, to form a task force with accompanying destroyers and auxiliary vessels to patrol the East China Sea. We went to air defense several times in the Korea Strait.

Going Home

After Okinawa, the U.S. military was apparently reducing the size of the force in the Pacific and discharging some of the prewar enlisted men. I soon learned that I was among the Nevadasailorswho were eligible for transfer back to the States and discharge from the Navy.

On July 31, 1945, I was detached from the Nevada and sent to the receiving station at Kuba, Okinawa, along with a group of other crewmen. On August 5, we boarded the transport USS Kittson(APA 123) and sailed for Guam.

On August 6, while en route to Guam, we received a report that a massive bomb had been dropped over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. A few days later, a second bomb exploded over the city of Nagasaki.     The Atomic Age had arrived.

We reached Guam on August 11, where, four days later, we received the most welcomed news: a cease-fire order was in effect throughout the Pacific. All enemy action had ceased by a firm directive of Emperor Hirohito. PEACE! An unbelievable moment for all of us who had survived the war.

The initial end of the fighting in the Pacific had a greater emotional impact on us than the impressive formal Japanese surrender ceremony aboard the battleship  USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945.

After a short period at Fire Control School in San Diego, I was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center to be discharged on February 26, 1946—my 23rd birthday. I had spent six years in uniform, with three years, eight months, and nine days in combat zones.

I had seen it all—from being at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked to being in the Aleutians and off the shores of Normandy during the D-Day operation, then again for the invasion of southern France to the fierce battles for Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and elsewhere.

After my discharge, I chose to take advantage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (the G.I. Bill of Rights) and enrolled in a nearby Illinois liberal arts college. That decision changed the entire spiritual and economic outlook of this Depression-era boy.

Seventy years later, I can’t help reflecting on the fact that young people from various nations entered into this horrific war with different obligations, goals, principles, and ideas. Many never saw their homes again, while others assumed a different life after returning to civilian status. Still others left this war with shattered minds. To many World War II veterans, those terrible moments seven decades ago have become a haunting specter, the anchor of their turbulent thoughts.

Foremost among the many tragedies of war is that it is always the innocent youth to be called to fight, to bear the deepest wounds and scars, and even to die. When will mankind ever learn?

Editor's Note: The U.S. Navy deemed the Nevada too old, damaged, and obsolete to be worth overhauling, and so she was designated a target ship for the atomic bomb tests that took place at Bikini Atoll on July 1, 1946. The old girl proved she could still take it. She survived this blast as well as another underwater atomic test three weeks later. Still, she refused to sink, although she was heavily damaged and highly radioactive.

After being towed back to Pearl Harbor and used for experiments in radioactive decontamination, it was decided to use her for gunnery practice. She was towed to a location some 65 miles southwest of Pearl Harbor, where the battleship Iowa and the cruisers Pasadena and Astoria blasted her for over an hour. Although badly battered, she remained afloat. A single aerial torpedo capsized her shortly after 2 pm on July 31, 1948. Her exact resting place in 2,600 fathoms of water remains unknown.

This article by Charles T. Sehe originally appeared on Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.