Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Remembering the World War I Veterans of Pearl Harbor: A Roads Classic

Crew and Officers, USS Oklahoma, 1917

Today, on the 80th anniversary of the Day of Infamy, let's look at the ships of the Pacific Fleet that served in the Great War. Of the ships damaged or sunk, three served overseas in Battleship Squadron 6—the second group of battleships deployed to the war zone. (The other was Squadron 9, deployed with the Grand Fleet.)

The three ships of Squadron 6 at Pearl Harbor were the USS Utah (by then converted to a gunnery ship), the USS Oklahoma, and the USS Nevada. The ships' mission was to escort convoys across the Atlantic. After the Armistice they helped welcome President Wilson to the Paris conference and were present at the surrender of Germany's High Seas Fleet. Here are each of the three ships and a little information about them:

USS Utah (BB-31/AG-16)

USS Utah on Station, Bantry Bay, Ireland, 1918

Utah Being Refloated After the Attack

In the first minutes of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the ship was hit by two torpedoes, which caused serious flooding. Utah quickly rolled over and sank; the vast majority of her crew were able to escape, but 64 men were killed in the attack. The wreck remains in the harbor, and in 1972 a memorial was erected near the ship.

USS Oklahoma (BB-37)

USS Oklahoma, Berehaven Harbor, Ireland, 1918

Oklahoma Capsized Next to USS Maryland, Which Suffered Minimal Damage

On 7 December 1941, a total of 429 crew died when the USS Oklahoma capsized and sunk on Battleship Row after being struck by several bombs and torpedoes during the Japanese attack. Most of the battleships that were recovered after Pearl Harbor were able to be salvaged and return to duty. But not the USS Oklahoma. She was too damaged and was eventually stripped of her remaining armaments and superstructure before being sold for scrap in 1946. The wreck was lost at sea in transit to the Pacific coast.

USS Nevada (BB-36)

BB-36 in Three Configurations: Original/WWI, 
Interwar Modernization, Post-Pearl Harbor WWII

The Only Battleship to Get Under Way on 7 December, Nevada's Captain Was Ordered to Run the Ship Aground to Avoid Blocking the Main Channel

Of the three veterans of Squadron 6, USS Nevada was the only ship to survive the attack and the only battleship of the Pacific Fleet to attempt to get to sea. Over the course of the morning, Nevada suffered a total of 60 killed and 109 wounded It was repaired within a year. Nevada served as a convoy escort in the Atlantic and as a fire-support ship in four amphibious assaults: the Normandy landings and the invasions of Southern France, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. After the war, deemed obsolete, the Nevada suffered the indignity of being designated a target ship for atomic bomb tests. However, after surviving a blast at Bikini Atoll, the ship was more fittingly sunk by naval gunfire.

Engineer Officer Donald Ross, USS Nevada,  Receiving the 
Medal of Honor for His Service on 7 December

Don Ross played a critical role in getting the Nevada's engines working that day. Your editor had the good fortune of chatting with him in the 1980s over a cup off coffee on a Puget Sound ferry. As we returned to our cars, I noticed his license plate was a special State of Washington issue with a Medal of Honor designation. I later looked up his citation and this is what it says:

For distinguished conduct in the line of his profession, extraordinary courage and disregard of his own life during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. When his station in the forward dynamo room of the U.S.S. Nevada became almost untenable due to smoke, steam, and heat, Machinist Ross forced his men to leave that station and performed all the duties himself until blinded and unconscious. Upon being rescued and resuscitated, he returned and secured the forward dynamo room and proceeded to the after dynamo room where he was later again rendered unconscious by exhaustion. Again recovering consciousness he returned to his station where he remained until directed to abandon it.


  1. I recall there were also WW1 Marines at PH.

  2. Donald Ross--what an amazing story.

  3. Family lore says one of my grandfathers shoveled coal on a battleship from 1911 to 1916...