HONOLULU — Resting at the bottom of the Pacific but very much alive in naval history books, the storied battleship USS Nevada received fresh accolades Thursday aimed at ensuring that she and her crew continue “inspiring sailors for as long as there is a United States Navy.”
On a drizzly Hawaiian morning the day after the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, four USS Nevada veterans and a few dozen dignitaries and Nevadans gathered to commemorate a plaque dedicated to the ship and her crew.
The ceremony at Hospital Point — the spot where the Nevada was intentionally grounded — provided another opportunity to remember their exploits on Dec. 7, 1941, when the crew managed to get the Nevada underway after she was hit by a torpedo and bombs and make a valiant run for the open sea, fighting all the way.
They didn’t make it, but the maneuver spared the ship from possible ruin at anchor and inspired every American who saw or read about it, said Sam Cox, a retired rear admiral and director of the Naval History and Heritage Command.
It also enabled the Nevada to be repaired in time to fight again during the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France; in the Battle of Attu off Alaska; and in the Pacific battles at Okinawa and Iwo Jima, he noted.
“It saved our country, saved our way of life, and there’s no way we could give you enough thanks,” Cox said to the four veterans present who served aboard the Nevada during World War II — Gebhard “Geb” Galle, Dick Ramsey, Cliff Burks and Ansel Tupper — who were huddled under a canopy on the shoreline.
“The example that was set by the crew of the Nevada inspires the Navy and the sailors of our generation,” Cox said. “It’s my mission to make sure that it keeps inspiring sailors for as long as there is a United States Navy.”
Galle, 95,of Stevenson, Washington, recalled that he was getting ready to go to church when he saw swarms of warplanes converging on the harbor that morning. There were so many, he figured they had to be U.S. Army Air Corps or Navy aircraft.
FIRING UP THE ENGINES
“I said, ‘What the hell of a day it is to have practice on a Sunday of all things,’” he said.
As soon as the bombs began falling, he raced three decks down to his battle station to help get steam going to the engine room.
He was using a wrench to open a bypass valve for steam to power the ship when an engineer shouted, “Bypass hell. Open that SOB bypass now. “ He did, “and we were able to get steam to the engine room to get the ship underway.”
The USS Nevada backed up, then cruised past the other U.S. warships on Battleship Row, including the burning and sinking USS Arizona and the capsized USS Oklahoma.
As the Nevada was moving, U.S. forces on the shore were in the midst of a firefight.
Wetzel Sanders, 93, of Midkiff, West Virginia, who also attended Thursday’s ceremony, was a young soldier on shore manning a .50-caliber machine gun for the 251st Army Coast Artillery. He remembered opening fire on a Japanese Zero fighter that was swooping down toward the naval hospital.
“That was my job,” he said. “You get on the .50-caliber and pour the lead to him, he’ll come down.”
Sanders’ aim was true, and he recalled seeing his gun’s tracer bullets hit the plane.
“There was smoke and fire coming out of it,” he said. “When he started coming down real fast, he missed the top of the hospital probably 3 foot.”
Offshore, meanwhile, Japanese dive bombers spotted the Nevada heading for the sea and unleashed a wave of bombs, hoping to sink her and block the channel.
To avoid that, the officers in charge, Ensign Charles Jenkins and Lt. Cmdr. Francis Thomas — filling in for Capt. Francis Scanland who was spending the weekend on shore — followed orders to beach the ship at Hospital Point.
At the conclusion of Thursday’s ceremony, the names of the USS Nevada sailors killed in action that day were read, followed by a moment of silence.
‘THEN, NOW AND FOREVER’
Galle and Nevada’s adjutant general, Air Force Brig. Gen. William Burks, then placed the new commemorative plaque at the foot of a concrete USS Nevada marker already at the point.
A contingent led by Linda Miller of Henderson, chairwoman of commemorative events for the Nevada Daughters of the American Revolution, placed Quilts of Valor on the shoulders of the USS Nevada veterans.
And members of Girl Scout Troop 214 sprinkled Nevada soil at the marker, brought over in a plastic bag by Las Vegan John Galloway.
Galloway, a history buff, delivered a handwritten letter from Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, encased with the plaque he designed inside a cherrywood box. The letter thanked the USS Nevada sailors for their courage.
“We offer our utmost respect and gratitude for your service to our country,” the letter reads.
Galloway added his own epitaph: “We remember everyone who has fought for freedom, then, now and forever.”
Contact Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308. Find him on Twitter: @KeithRogers2