USS Nevada veterans reunite in Las Vegas

Veterans of the USS Nevada battleship salute a color guard Thursday during their first reunion in several years at the Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas.

Veterans of the USS Nevada battleship salute a color guard Thursday during their first reunion in several years at the Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS — Barbara Emerson never forgot the story behind her father’s silver dollar.

Joe Calvin Hays, her father, served on the USS Nevada battleship during World War II. The Nevada endured Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor and lived to bombard the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima.

Following D-Day, citizens of Nevada honored the ship bearing their state’s name by sending more than two thousand silver dollars to its crew.

“My father always referred to the silver dollar as a special gift from the state of Nevada,” said Emerson, of Little Rock, Ark.

On Thursday, Emerson returned her father’s silver dollar to the Silver State during a reunion of USS Nevada veterans.

It’s been a few years since veterans of the battleship gathered for a reunion, but they came to Las Vegas for the release of a documentary on the “unsinkable” vessel.

“It’s the most legendary battleship of the 20th century,” said Chuck Pride, who produced the documentary to mark the 100th anniversary of the USS Nevada’s commissioning on March 11, 1916.

Pride started on the film two years ago. He spoke with several veterans of the ship and informed them of the movie’s release this week. Pride hopes to play the film at a few festivals and eventually on local public broadcasting.

The ship housed up to 1,400 crewmen at any given time from 1916 to its final voyage in 1946, the year it became a target ship for atomic bomb testing off the Bikini atoll.

The number of veterans still living to tell its story is now only a small fraction of those who manned the ship.

Last week, about a dozen visited Las Vegas for the reunion.

“All of us have so much pride in that ship,” said Cliff Burks, 90, of Dickinson, Texas, a 5-inch gun pointer on the USS Nevada. “It was our home for over three and a half years. You get to know every crack in the deck and you know everything and everybody by sight. It’s hard to know 1,400 people. We all at least knew the barbers.”

Burks came aboard the ship shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. That day, the Nevada survived six bombs and a torpedo before being ordered to run aground. Fifty men died on the Nevada during the Pearl Harbor attack. But the ship survived and also later endured kamikaze attacks in the Pacific Theater.

Burks was there when the ship fired for 80 straight hours during Operation Neptune for the Utah Beach landings on D-Day.

Following D-Day, more than 2,300 silver dollars were collected from Nevada citizens proud of the ship’s success. Those silver dollars were transported in a magnesium chest mined in Nevada, which is displayed today on exhibit at the Nevada State Museum.

“They got together for all hands on deck and handed out silver dollars,” said Emerson, recalling her father’s story.

Last month, Emerson heard USS Nevada veterans were meeting for a reunion. She couldn’t pass on the opportunity to meet some of the men her father, who has since passed, served aside. She also wanted to return his silver dollar to the people of Nevada.

“If you look at the coin, it’s got my dad’s initials stamped on it,” she said. “He immediately took it to the machine shop to have his initials stamped on it so they would know it was his. My brother and I thought the state of Nevada would appreciate it. My dad was very proud of it.”


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