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Posted: December 7, 2010 9:20 a.m.

Pearl Harbor remembered

America’s World War II veterans are slipping the surly bonds of Earth more quickly than ever. Too soon, no one will remain to recount where they were Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, when accounts of Japan’s treacherous attack at Pearl Harbor hit radio airwaves. The number of Pearl Harbor survivors at the annual commemorative service aboard the USS Arizona Memorial on Tuesday will attest to that sad fact.

Then there will be only droplets of oil bubbling to the surface from Arizona’s bunkers, mute testimony to the souls entombed there. No one will be left to tell the story correctly. Few accurate records will remain, obfuscated by nonsensical Hollywood films and revisionist scholars seeking to make their name in academia.

Japan attacked at 8 a.m. Hawaii time, 1 p.m. Eastern time, with envoys still in Washington discussing peace initiatives.

Revisionists would have you believe President Franklin Roosevelt orchestrated the attack. Hollywood would present an especially bad film, "Pearl Harbor," as an accurate account.

Aside from the last survivors, there are but two written accounts which accurately tell the story of Japan’s dastardly attack. One is Volume III of Samuel Eliot Morison’s "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II."

The other is Gordon W. Prange’s "At Dawn We Slept," 37 years of interviews with every American, Japanese and Hawaiian civilian who witnessed the attack and survived the war.

Heroes come in all forms. Let me tell you of heroes whom revisionists never mention, who never appear in a Hollywood film. They mattered that Sunday morning 69 years ago in Pearl Harbor. They are the men of the USS Nevada.

Shortly after dawn on Dec. 7, a specially modified aerial torpedo struck Nevada’s port side bow at 8:10 a.m., blowing a hole 45-feet-by-30-feet in her hull.

With its senior staff ashore, Lt. Cmdr. Francis Thomas sounded battle stations, instructing the engine room’s "black gang" to make steam. At 8:40 a.m., Nevada sortied, a legendary feat of seamanship, getting a battlewagon underway from a cold start in 30 minutes. One hero, Chief Boatswain E. J. Hill, jumped overboard, cast off all lines, then swam back to his ship.

Maneuvering close to USS Arizona’s blazing funeral pyre, Nevada’s ammunition began cooking off from the heat. Scores of unknown heroes covered ammo with their bodies, literally melting away into nothingness to save their ship.

Nevada took six bomb hits early, but her anti-aircraft batteries, commanded by severely wounded Ensign J. K. Taussig, downed four planes. Taussig would not be moved; his guns accounted for three additional bombers.

Despite absorbing a torpedo and a dozen direct bomb hits, Nevada made a spectacular difference.

"Out of the pall of smoke," Prange wrote, "men saw a vision which caused them to stop and stare, dumbstruck. Nevada, her proud flag rippling defiance and her guns blazing, emerged from the gloom."

Nevada attracted nearly every enemy aircraft. If sunk, she would bottle up Pearl Harbor. Lt. Cmdr. Thomas knew this, and beached Nevada on Hospital Point at 10:30 a.m. Sadly, as he placed anchor chains to hold position, the heroic Chief Hill was killed by yet another bomb hit.

What manner of men were these? What ship engenders such devotion?

Commissioned March 11, 1916, USS Nevada escorted convoys from Ireland, then accompanied President Woodrow Wilson to the Paris Peace Conference ending World War I.

In the 1920s she visited Peru and Brazil before sailing to Australia and New Zealand, thus demonstrating to the increasingly hostile Japanese Empire America’s capability of trans-Pacific naval operations.

Refloated in early 1942, Nevada helped recapture Attu, Alaska, then crossed the Atlantic to support D-Day landings in Normandy, the only battlewagon present at both Pearl and Normandy. Later, refit with Arizona’s turret 2 guns, Nevada supported Iwo Jima and Okinawa landings.

Ask an Iwo Marine if he knows of Nevada. She closed within 600 yards of shore in our darkest hour, firing point-blank without regard for her safety. At Okinawa, she survived a kamikaze suicide attack.

USS Nevada was in Tokyo Bay when Japan surrendered, having seen World War II through from start to finish.

Afterwards, deemed "too old," Nevada was a target for two atom bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. Against all odds, she survived.

Eventually the Navy sunk her 60 miles southwest of Pearl Harbor. She rests there today, in deep water. And that’s a shame, because she belongs up top, resplendent in bright sunshine, so that generations of future Americans may know of USS Nevada and the men who fought her so gallantly.

May America never forget Pearl Harbor Day, nor those who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life.

 

Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.

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