Filed Under Battle of Okinawa

The USS Nevada Memorial

Lesser Known - Yet No Less Important

After a long and honored history including service in both World Wars, the story of the USS Nevada and its subsequent memorial in Pearl Harbor are largely forgotten. Although it was present and sunk in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese military attacked the base on December 7, 1941, it is far less remembered than other World War II ships like the USS Arizona or the USS Missouri.

There is no question that the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial remains the signature site for visitors to Pearl Harbor each year. For many, it is the most tangible reminder of when Japanese planes attacked the Hawaiian naval base and surrounding airfields to open the United States’ formal participation in World War II. The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial has become a well-known landmark with its sweeping white superstructure and the engraved names of the 1177 men who died aboard the ship that day. The ship's remains rest on the shallow floor of the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, next to the quay where the ship was tied up that morning. Stretching in front of and behind the U.S.S. Arizona are additional quays where other battleships were tied up on what was known as Battleship Row.

Although it is the best known, the U.S.S Arizona was not the only ship to be attacked. Of the eight battleships that were present in Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, six of them would be sunk during the attack. Visitors today can visualize where each of the battleships was located on the morning of the attack by looking at the quays rising above the water, painted a brilliant white with each ship’s name prominently displayed, signifying its location on the morning of December 7th, 1941.

Memorials commemorating some of the lost ships and men were built at different times. The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial was the first constructed after a significant portion of the memorial’s cost was raised by a campaign boosted by the TV show This Is Your Life and, more famously, a benefit concert featuring Elvis Presley in March 1961. Another significant boost came from the Revell model company, which donated proceeds from sales of plastic models of the sunken ship. The U.S. Naval Institute News documents the details of these fund-raising efforts. In 1972, the second memorial was dedicated to the U.S.S. Utah as described on the USS UTAH BB-31/AG-16: The Forgotten Ship of Pearl Harbor's website. The U.S.S. Utah’s crumbling remains a short distance from the U.S.S. Arizona, separated by a white quay bearing the name of the last battleship anchored in Battleship Row that day, the USS Nevada.

A memorial for the U.S.S. Nevada, the third ship memorialized at Pearl Harbor, didn’t appear until 1981, and of the three, it gets very little visitor attention. Commercial tour operators used to bring tourists through the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, where the memorial was pointed out to tourists. However, post-9/11 security restrictions ended this access. Today, it is not accessible by any of the commercially available tours. Situated near the former chief doctors’ quarters at Hospital Point, visitors need a military or Park Service escort to take them there if they wish to visit and honor the USS Nevada and the men who served aboard her. The Memorial’s location over a mile away from the U.S.S. Arizona memorial, its remoteness, and the security requirements all add to a minimal number of visitors annually. U.S.S. Nevada veteran Richard Ramsey wistfully noted, “It’s not exactly a tourist attraction. It’s pretty far from Honolulu.” The website on the monuments and memorials in Pearl Harbor doesn’t even list it since the Navy owns and maintains it. The isolation of the memorial thus contributes to a sense that the ship's history has been forgotten despite its fantastic record, a story that deserves to be remembered and preserved.

The U.S.S. Nevada’s career began with active service during World War I, but her first significant combat action came during the attack at Pearl Harbor. She is primarily remembered in Pearl Harbor lore for one of the few things that raised the morale of those present that morning. Over the weekend of December 5, 1941, she was moored immediately behind the Arizona. Much of the ship’s crew had gone ashore for the weekend, leaving a partial crew behind to man their watches. With no indications that anything was amiss, the U.S.S. Nevada’s band began playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the flag was raised at the battlewagon’s stern at 8:00 AM. At that moment, the first Japanese planes appeared and began attacking their targets. The ship’s band continued through the end of the song. Only then did the sailors run to their battle stations and prepare to return fire against the Japanese planes, as described by Wayne Scarpaci: a Naval artist, historian, and author.

The U.S.S. Nevada and her men were determined to fight back against the attackers. Her official history shows she downed a Japanese plane two minutes later. At 8:10 AM, Nevada was struck by an aerial torpedo, followed 14 minutes later by the first of many bombs that would hit her that day. Not wanting to be a stationary target and to get away from the furiously burning Arizona ahead of her, the officer of the deck ordered the ship to get underway as quickly as possible. This crucial effort allowed Nevada to cast off her mooring lines while swinging wide of Arizona and moving into the channel to head to sea by 8:40 AM. The U.S.S. Nevada was the only battleship to do so that day, as noted by Christopher Havern: a Historian at Naval History and Heritage Command.

As dazed and shocked sailors on ships and land cheered the sight of the Nevada’s sprint, Japanese pilots saw the ship moving and tried to sink her to block the channel. Already on fire, the Nevada was hit by at least six bombs and began to sink as she moved forward. Realizing she could potentially block any ships going in or out of Pearl Harbor, Nevada’s crew intentionally ran her aground. Later that afternoon, she was moved further out of the way and finally settled onto the bottom of Pearl Harbor just off Hospital Point, with most of her upper structure standing proudly out of the water. Fifty men lost their lives on the ship that day, and two of her crew members were awarded Medals of Honor for their actions, one posthumously as described by Havern.

On February 12th, 1942, the Navy carefully completed refloating the battleship, hoping to return it to service after repairing the substantial damage and modernizing it. The ship's holes were patched, and she was sailed carefully back to Puget Sound, Washington, where repair work was done over the course of several months. Her first wartime assignment took her to the Aleutian Islands in April 1943 to regain control of the only American territory occupied by Axis troops. It was the first time the Nevada’s main guns were used in combat. By May, Japanese troops withdrew.

The U.S.S. Nevada subsequently transferred to the U.S. Atlantic Fleet for convoy duty, and in late May 1944, the ship was alerted to prepare for the D-Day landings in France. The ship fired the first shots from the huge supporting armada to begin bombarding German positions in Normandy. She continued providing fire support until her ammunition ran low, forcing a return to England to reload. The U.S.S. Nevada later supported Operation Dragoon, the landing of troops in Southern France before returning to the U.S. Pacific Fleet to provide fire support at Iwo Jima and later at Okinawa. While operating off Okinawa, the ship was hit by a Japanese dive bomber that killed 11 men. The battleship then brought home former prisoners of war from captivity in what was known as Operation Magic Carpet per Havern.

Like thousands of ships, Navy leaders had to figure out what to do with the U.S.S. Nevada and other surplus ships after the war ended. Given the ship's age and the peacetime drawdown of the Navy, it was decided that tests of the new atomic bomb were needed, and one of the things leaders wanted to know was how well ships would survive this new form of warfare. The U.S.S. Nevada was hit with two nuclear blasts in 1946 but did not sink. Unsure what to do with the radioactive ship, it finally met its end in 1947 following several days of being fired upon by ships of the Pacific fleet for target practice. The scarred battleship that had survived two world wars, including being sunk and refloated later at Pearl Harbor only to be later hit in a kamikaze attack, would not be allowed to be memorialized and preserved like other ships. Instead, she slipped beneath the waves, living only in the memories of those who loved her. There would be no tourists climbing all over the ship as they do on the U.S.S. Missouri, reading about the Nevada’s exploits and learning about its involvement in some of the most titanic events of the 20th century.

The U.S.S. Nevada Memorial came into being thanks to World War II veteran Paul Hughey, who arrived in Pearl Harbor aboard the carrier U.S.S. Lexington immediately following the attack. In a 1983 interview in The Columbia Record, he recalled visiting the base in the late 1970s, when "I took the boat tour up the Pearl Harbor channel and looking at the shoreline, I couldn't place in my mind exactly where the Nevada had been, and I thought that wasn't right... It was a terrific story courage and bravery and seamanship, and I thought it should be recognized. "

The design and construction of the Memorial was very different and smaller than that of the Arizona’s and the Utah’s Memorials. No one offered to host a big-name concert or sell ship models to pay for the memorial’s construction. If the ship were memorialized, it would be left to veterans and their friends to raise the needed funds. A plaque on the Memorial credits the USS Nevada Association and the Pacific Central Navy League with providing the money for its construction. Designers decided to place the U.S.S. Nevada Memorial on a piece of land near Hospital Point, where she ran aground during the attack. The location allows the fortunate visitor to look out and to the right toward the naval base, mentally recreating the courageous journey of the battleship on December 7th. An American flag flies proudly from the tall, white flagpole rising behind the center of the concrete plinth that is the heart of the memorial. A large brass plaque centered on the front side remembers Nevada’s two Medal of Honor and 15 Navy Cross recipients from December 7th and solemnly displays the name of each of the 50 men killed in action.

Dan Martinez, a longtime National Park Service historian assigned to Pearl Harbor, recalls that the members of the Nevada Association intended for the Memorial to be a “purposeful” one, primarily to display the large brass plaque. As such, little effort was made to add symbolic touches. The dedication on December 7th, 1983, was attended by many U.S.S. Nevada veterans, who took the opportunity to have their annual reunion in Honolulu for the occasion. The Memorial has evolved with additional signage and plaques to provide additional information for tourists to understand the ship's history better.

Over time, the memorial has been the site of naval re-enlistments for base personnel and the location for various ceremonies such as significant anniversaries of the attack. The 80th anniversary in 2021 might be the last event that a U.S.S. Nevada veteran could attend in person. The attendee was Richard Ramsey, then 98 years old. The loquacious nonagenarian recalled the Memorial “is a place I can go to, and it’s a place that says Nevada; it just brings back memories.”

As the last veterans who witnessed Pearl Harbor or served aboard the U.S.S. Nevada fade away, the U.S.S. Nevada Memorial ensures that her memory and the actions of the men aboard that historic day will not be entirely forgotten. While far less accessible and grand than the U.S.S. Arizona’s famous memorial, the U.S.S. Nevada Memorial continues to evolve, educate, and inspire its visitors about a storied ship that served in two World Wars only to finally sink under the waves in the early stages of the atomic age.


(Edited by Brad Poss and Laura Bailey)

Images

The Rear of the U.S.S. Nevada Memorial This inscription was added prior to 9/11 for seaward visitors to know what the Memorial honors. Source: Private Collection of Dan Martinez, National Park Service. Creator: Dan Martinez, National Park Service Date: November 14, 2022
Detail of the Plaque at the U.S.S. Nevada Memorial This is the plaque listing the names of the two Medal of Honor recipients, Navy Cross winners and the 50 men who were killed aboard the U.S.S. Nevada during the Pearl Harbor attack. Source: Private collection of Dvid Traill Creator: David Traill Date: December 6, 2021
Nevada Bombarding Iwo Jima, 19 February 1945 The post-Pearl Harbor modernized U.S.S. Nevada in action during the Iwo Jima landings. Source: U.S. Navy, "Nevada Bombarding Iwo Jima," February 19, 1945, 80-G-K-3510 National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md. Accesssed Junes 26, 2023. U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command NAVSOURCE Creator: U.S. Navy Date: February 19, 1945
U.S.S. Nevada Beached at Waipio Point U.S.S. Nevada Aground near Hospital Point Source: World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument USAR 186 Creator: National Park Service via the U.S. Navy Date: December 7, 1941
The Front of the U.S.S. Nevada Memorial This view of the memorial looks out over Pearl Harbor, near the spot where the U.S.S. Nevada was intentionally run aground. Source: David Traill Photograph Creator: David Traill Date: December 6, 2021
The U.S.S. Nevada’s eternal resting place in 2020 Caption: After 72 years of being sunk in the Pacific with her location forgotten, the U.S.S. Nevada’s wreck site was found in 2020, briefly reviving memories of the ship. Source: US Daily Mail newspaper Creator: Ocean Infinity Search, Inc. Date: Last updated October 27, 2020
The USS Nevada Quay on Battleship Row The U.S.S. Nevada’s quay on Battleship Row, right behind the U.S.S. Arizona Source: David TraillDavid Traill Photograph Creator: David Traill Date: December 5, 2021
The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial with the preserved U.S.S. Missouri behind The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial rests over the remains of the capsized battleship, just ahead of the WWII battleship U.S.S. Missouri in Pearl Harbor. Source: David Traill Photograph Creator: David Traill Date: December 6, 2021
Clip from the December 6, 1983 Hawaii Tribune Herald about the U.S.S. Nevada Memorial Dedication Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald, December 6, 1983 via newspapers.com Creator: Hawaii Tribune Herald newspaper from a United Press International Press Report Date: December 6, 1983
The wayside panels explaining about the U.S.S. Nevada and Hospital Point’s significance The Navy erected these historical markers at the Memorial site to educate people about the significance of the U.S.S. Nevada and Hospital Point. Source: Dan Martinez, National Park Service Creator: Dan Martinez, National Park Service Date: November 14, 2022
Promotional Flyer for the Elvis Presley Benefit Concert Caption: This flyer promoted Elvis’ 1961 concert to raise funds for the Arizona Memorial’s construction. No such public campaign helped raise money for the Nevada’s memorial. Source: U.S. Naval Institute Creator: State of Hawaii Pacific War Memorial Commission Date: 1961

Location

USS NEVADA (BB 36) Memorial, Hospital Point, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam

Metadata

David Traill, “The USS Nevada Memorial,” Global World War II Monuments, accessed July 16, 2024, https://www.worldwariimonuments.org/items/show/37.