The U.S. Navy and its veterans will soon give pause to remember the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I have also paused to imagine that sweeping assault on December 7, 1941. It was a wave of men and machines that churned the Pacific into a maelstrom of war. To visit Pearl Harbor today means to stroll into a dramatic and tragic period of military history. The submerged wreck of USS Arizona reminds us of the cost of conflict. Her corroded hull is a literal tomb containing the remains of many sailors.
Pearl Harbor is a tragic story, but there are other tales within the event. Take the time to read some of them, hear the accounts of living veterans, and witness the photos of that fantastic and horrific battle. Younger folk might understand why seniors have compared Pearl Harbor to September 11: both were shocking, fast, life-changing, and unforgettable.
As a lifelong student of naval history, I was privileged to visit Pearl Harbor in 2009. I have always enjoyed stories about the endurance of ships and men, grandfather stock that our generation may never see again. One of my favorite tales involves a mighty ship, USS Nevada, which survived Pearl and saw the end of World War II.
Nevada was actually built in the Great War in 1916. The battleship operated in both Atlantic and Pacific waters. Her crew was caught off-guard by a Japanese aerial attack in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, but brought up steam and tried to race for open water. When air strikes damaged the battle wagon to an extent that prevented her from escaping, her captain beached Nevada and kept her from blocking the harbor. Fifty of her sailors were killed in the attack.
The Navy got the warship back into action by 1942. Nevada fought the Japanese during the invasion of the Alaskan islands, then went to Norfolk for an upgrade. Her heavy guns roared again at Normandy, where Nevada shrugged off attacks from German batteries. In February 1945, the ship provided fire support to U.S. Marines at Iwo Jima. Her guns trained on Okinawa by March, a brutal island battle that cost the ship another 13 personnel. By April, the battleship was within range of the Japanese home islands.
I find it sad that a triumphant vessel is not always afforded a place of honor at the end of its service. In 1946, Nevada was used as a test target for an atomic bomb at the Bikini Atoll. She refused to sink. In 1948, the battle wagon was towed into open water and fired upon by U.S. warships. Only then did the mighty Nevada break apart and sink into the ocean. The grand battleship, awarded with seven battle stars for her grand service, now rests off the coast of Hawaii.