Pearl Harbor +67, pt II: remembering the USS Nevada, BB 36

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

I was stationed in Pearl Harbor reporting aboard DDG-16 in December of 1975. Having finally established myself in San Francisco (apartment, girlfriend, roommate), I transferred with 2 weeks notice and 2 weeks for weapons school in San Diego. Being the newest junior officer, I had the weekend duty on Sunday December 7th, the day that President Gerald Ford visited the USS Arizona Memorial.

We were tied-up across the harbor and in full view of Ford’s Island where lies the sunken USS Arizona with its splendid memorial. Across this small island, really a battleship parking lot, lies the sunken USS Utah with hardly a visitor (she wasn’t much of a warship when sunk; the Arizona was then the flagship of Admiral Kidd who was lost in the attack). The Arizona has an aura befitting its sacrifice and representation; oil still bleeds from its tanks into Pearl Harbor.

When I think of Pearl Harbor, I recall the USS Nevada. Also moored on Ford’s Island, she managed to raise steam and to get underway even though torpedoed and bombed prior to doing so. On a ship stocked with senior officers, not aboard on this Sunday morning, the Nevada got underway under the command of a lieutenant, a lieutenant commander and a chief quartermaster. Winding her way through the lengthy channel of the harbor, she became a high priority target for Japanese fighter-bombers.
As she approached the mouth of the channel and now aware of the Japanese intent to sink her there to block the harbor, the Nevada drove itself ashore at Hospital Point.

Over the next two years, our own ship came in and out of Pearl on numerous occasions. For one year I served as navigator of our ship, the USS Joseph Strauss. Every time, in day or night, entering or leaving, that we passed this actual landmark, I thought of the young and brave men who sailed the same channel under incredible duress and marveled at their bravery, leadership and presence of mind.

Lieutenant Commander Francis Thomas, a naval reservist, was an engineering officer and the senior officer aboard at the time of the attack. He got Nevada underway and ordered her beached. He passed on in 2005 at the age of 100. He commented that “he was the only man in the Navy ever to receive a medal (Navy Cross) for running his ship aground.”