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Made-for-movie model of USS Nevada being restored

Dec. 17, 2013 - 10:46AM   |  
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RENO, NEV. — From the time Nevada's namesake battleship, the USS Nevada, was launched in 1914, it has held a special place in the hearts of the state's residents.

From its birth to its survival at Pearl Harbor and service in World War II to its role as a target ship in atomic testing to its ultimate demise off the coast of Hawaii in 1948, many Silver State residents know well the story of "the unsinkable Nevada."

And as it turns out, Nevadans aren't the only ones with a deep affection for the battleship, and in a matter of few months and dollars, the USS Nevada will rise again.

Well, in a matter of speaking.

For the past four years, the Navy Days-Los Angeles Navy League of the United States, in association with the nonprofit Quarterdeck Society, have been working to restore a 1/15th scale model of the USS Nevada that was built for and used during the 1970 Universal Studios motion picture "Tora, Tora, Tora," which depicted the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941.

"We think she was built in 1969," Grant Ivey, national director of the Navy League of the United States and President of Navy Days-Los Angeles, said of the 38-foot-long model. "The movie came out in 1970."

The restoration has been taking place inside a warehouse at the Seal Beach Navy Weapons Station in Los Angeles.

"We're about 90 percent finished," Ivey told the Reno Gazette-Journal (http://tinyurl.com/ktuv82s). "We're still looking for about $2,500 to get it finished."

The ultimate plan is to put the model on display at the Port of Los Angeles as part of a USS Nevada Memorial, not far from the battleship USS Iowa, which is harbored at the Port of Las Angeles as a museum ship.

The USS Iowa and USS Nevada have quite a relationship, but to know more about that, it's good to know the history of the USS Nevada.

NEVADA'S NAMESAKE

The USS Nevada, designated as BB-36, was launched on July 11, 1914, in Quincy, Mass. Eleanor Anne Seibert, the 11-year-old niece of Nevada Gov. Tasker L. Oddie, christened the ship, and Oddie addressed the 20,000 people assembled for the ceremony.

It was 583 feet long and 95 feet across at the beam.

The Nevada did not see battle during World War I, but that changed drastically at the onset of World War II.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Nevada was one of eight battleships in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese launched their surprise attack in the early morning hours. It was the only battleship to get under way during the attack.

It was hit with at least six Japanese bombs and a torpedo that opened a 45-by-35 foot gash in the side of the ship. It was intentionally run aground, but its crew continued to fight and was the first to shoot down a Japanese aircraft. At the end of the battle, 50 Nevada crew members died and 140 were wounded. The names of the 50 sailors killed are listed on the USS Nevada Memorial at the Capitol in Carson City.

Today, the ship's wheel is in the office of Gov. Brian Sandoval and its bell, silver service and other memorabilia are in the Nevada State Museum in Carson City.

After Pearl Harbor, the Nevada was refloated and taken to the shipyards at Bremerton, Wash., for repairs. Back in service, she was off the beaches of France for the Normandy invasion in 1944 and later was sent to the Pacific, where it was involved in the invasion of Iwo Jima and the battle of Okinawa, where it was hit by a Japanese kamikaze airplane, resulting in the deaths of 11 crewmen.

After the war, and at 32 years old, the Nevada was deemed by the Navy as "too old," for the post-war fleet. It was selected to be one of 95 ships in Operation Crossroads, the testing of the atomic bomb.

The testing was to include the detonation of two atomic bombs — one above the water (code name Able) and one below the surface (code name Baker), and the Nevada was selected to be "ground zero" for the first test, Able.

When the clouds cleared from that first test, the Nevada was still afloat. The second atomic blast, three weeks after the first sunk many ships, but not the Nevada.

Damaged and radioactive, it was towed back to Pearl Harbor and decommissioned on Aug. 29, 1946. In July 1948, the Navy decided to dispose of the Nevada by sinking her in deep water 65 miles southwest of Hawaii, but the "unsinkable Nevada" proved stubborn. After five days of bombardment ranging from explosives inside the ship to five-inch shells from other ships —including the USS Iowa — the Nevada would not go down. Finally, an aerial torpedo dropped at midship sent the Nevada to the depths.

SAVING HISTORY

After the filming of "Tora, Tora, Tora," the USS Nevada model sat in a lot at Universal Studios and was headed for the trash bin when it was rescued by retired Naval Lt. Cmdr. Walter Riter, who had it restored.

For years, Riter would take the model, which is on a flatbed trailer, to schools, parades and community events in the Los Angeles area.

When Riter died, the Nevada model sat outside, exposed to the elements at the Seal Beach Navy Weapons Station until The Quarterdeck Society was given the model to restore it.

Weather-beaten, termite-infested, and with parts missing, stolen, or broken, The Quarterdeck Society and Navy Days-LA partnered to raise the funds necessary to restore the model and build a permanent home port/museum near the LA Maritime museum and the USS Iowa museum ship in Los Angeles Harbor.

The groups have raised and spent about $60,000 on restoration of the model.

In the meantime, the model has been taken on its 45-foot trailer to a number of parades. It was scheduled for two this month in Southern California.

With 2014 marking the 100th anniversary of the launching of the USS Nevada — and Nevada's sesquicentennial — some would like to see the model brought to Nevada for a special event or even the Nevada Day Parade.

"Wouldn't that be wonderful," said Ellyn MacKenzie, a retired teacher whose Vaughn Middle School students led the effort to build the USS Nevada Memorial at the state capitol in Carson City.

Ivey said, ideally, the permanent site for the USS Nevada model will be in plain sight of the Iowa — one of the ships that couldn't sink "the Unsinkable Nevada" in 1948.

"It will be like the Nevada sitting there saying, 'I'm back!'" Ivey said with a laugh.

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