Sunday, December 7, 2008

A lesson about America

Today is December 7th. A Sunday, just like December 7th, 1941. I wanted to tell you today a story about a ship. An American ship, a battleship to be exact. But this story is about more than just the ship, this story is about America, and how Americans, when faced with a terrible challenge can often rise to the occasion. It is a story about how you can never count us out. It is a story about how we handle adversity.
The USS West Virginia (BB-48) was launched on the 17th of November, 1921 from Newport News, Virginia. She was a Colorado-Class Super Dreadnought, built with all the lessons learned from the First World War. She was meant to show the world that America had truly come of age and had taken her rightful place among the Superpowers of this Earth. And for the 20 years following her launch, she did just that. She traveled the world over, showing what America was capable of, winning awards and accolades and the deep and abiding respect of any man who crewed her.
On December 7th, 1941, she, along with many of her sister ships, including 6 other Battleships, lay moored in her quay off Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. She was getting a well-deserved period of rest and refit following intense training exercises in November. It was in this spot, moored outboard of the USS Tennessee (BB-43), that she was attacked on that fateful Sunday morning. Being the outboard ship in the line, she took at least 7 hits from Japanese torpedoes, including possibly one fired from a Japanese Mini-Sub. She was hit by at least 2 bombs constructed from 16-inch armor piercing naval shells and spent 30 hours engulfed in an oil fire started when the USS Arizona was hit. The ship began to sink, but thanks to the quick thinking of her crew and officers, she was counter flooded to prevent capsizing and settled into the mud 40 feet down. Her crew stayed on board, fighting fires and firing the ships anti-aircraft guns at attacking Japanese aircraft until fire compelled them to abandon ship. They returned as soon as possible in an attempt to save their ship.
When the fires were extinguished the following day. damage was assessed, and the ship was deemed repairable. The USS West Virginia rose from the dead on May 17th, 1942, when, with patches on her hull, she was refloated and moved to dry dock for repairs. As Japan celebrated her victory, American workers labored long and hard to repair the great ship (and many other ships damaged in the attack). In July 1944, the USS West Virginia put to sea again, stronger and more modern than she had been in 1941. She steamed straight for the Empire of Japan as the flagship of Battleship Division 4 of the US Navy.
She spent the rest of 1944 fighting near the Philippines and in October 1944, she fought in the Battle of Leyte Gulf against Admiral Shima's Japanese Imperial Navy Task force, which included the Super Battle ships Yamato and Musashi. Joining the "Wee Vee" were the USS Maryland, USS Tennessee, USS California, the USS Pennsylvania and the USS Mississippi. With the exception of the USS Mississippi, all these ships were Pearl Harbor veterans.
At 3:52 AM on October the 25th, the West Virginia opened fire at 22,800 yards with her 16 inch guns, firing 16 salvos and sending the Japanese Battleship Yamashiro to a watery grave.
She continued her operations in the Philippines, fought off Iwo Jima, battled Kamikazes, fought off Okinawa and steamed into Tokyo Bay in August 1945 to take part in the surrender of the Empire of Japan. The satisfaction felt by her sailors, rising from the mud of Pearl Harbor, to finally see their enemies vanquished, must have been overwhelming.
It tell you this story, not just to share America's history with you, but as a parable. When our ship is in trouble, when hope is gone and things look bleak, we should remember the West Virginia, and we should learn from her example that with the hard work and dedication of willing Americans, any ship can be set to rights again.

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