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The Story of the USS West Virginia

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 2nd, 2014

Blog post by Jane Metters LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.

 

Ninety-one years ago, on December 1, 1923, the battleship USS West Virginia was commissioned.  The ship was actually christened two years earlier, on November 19, 1921, and was the second ship to be named for West Virginia (the first was an armored cruiser later renamed USS Huntington).

 

U.S.S. West Virginia Being Launched

Image of the USS West Virginia battleship being launched after christening.

 

After some initial hiccups and training exercises, the USS West Virginia would spend most of her career in the Pacific Ocean.  One of the sailors on the ship was United States Navy Seamen First Class William Hand.  He enlisted in August 1933 and was honorably discharged in July 1937.  His scrapbook, hat, pins, etc. are part of A&M 3612, a collection of his belonging held by the WVRHC.

 

Page from William Hand's scrapbook

Scrapbook page showing Hand’s Navy Training Course Certificate, a humorous printed “Prayer of a Sailor” highlighting hardships such as nighttime fire drills and washing one’s own clothes, and a handwritten record of his enlistment.

 

Photos of part of the USS WV crew, 1935

Composite photograph of a portion of the USS West Virginia crew–William Hand is on the bottom row, in the middle.

 

William Hand's USS WV hat

Hand’s hat.

 

William Hand's USS WV Pin

The ship’s insignia pin.

 

William Hand's Navy Medals

Hand’s US Navy good conduct medal, 1937 (maroon ribbon), and his whale boat crew medal, 1935 (blue ribbon)

 

After Hand’s discharge from the Navy, the USS West Virginia saw more turbulent action as Japan brought World War II to the Pacific.  The West Virginia was one of a handful of battleships at Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941, and was bombed, torpedoed, and sunk; over 100 lives were lost.

 

Crew Rescuing Men of the U.S.S. West Virginia During the Attack on Pearl Harbor

Picture of crew rescuing men of the USS West Virginia during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Credit Line Navy Department 80-G-19930.

 

The damage to the ship was repaired in the following years, and the West Virginia fought in the Pacific Theater at battles including Iwo Jima and Okinawa before participating in the occupation of Japan.  The ship was decommissioned in January 1947, then held in inactive reserve until stricken from the Navy List on March 1, 1959. On August 24 the battleship was sold for scrap.  On May 11, 1963, the mainmast was given to WVU and is still displayed in front of Oglebay Hall as a memorial.

 

Mast of the U.S.S. West Virginia Arrives on WVU Campus

Mast of the USS West Virginia Arrives on WVU Campus

 

Additional Pearl Harbor-related material can be found in A&M 3463, USS West Virginia Scrapbook and Memorabilia.  An interview with a sailor who was on board the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor is available in A&M 3426, Oral History Interviews of West Virginians in World War II.

 

Sources:

McNeel, William P. “USS West Virginia.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 19 September 2013. http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/846.  Accessed 01 December 2014.

“USS West Virginia (BB-48).” Wikipedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_West_Virginia_%28BB-48%29.  Accessed 01 December 2014.

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