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December 07, 2010
Battleship Row Pearl Harbor.
Moored next to the Tennessee.
The USS West Virginia.
Commissioned in 1923.
Out to sea in 1924.
Served in fleet exercises for almost two decades in efforts to maintain readiness.
Embodying the latest knowledge of naval architecture — the watertight compartments and armor protection.
But not enough to prevent being sunk that morning at Pearl, when, shortly before 0800, Japanese planes, flying from a six-carrier task force, began their well-designed attack.
She took five 18-inch aircraft torpedoes in her port side and two 15-inch armor-piercing shells, fitted with fins, flooded the ship.
In the heat of battle, a bomb fragment hit the center gun in Tennessee’s Turret II, spraying the West Virginia with fragments and hit the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Mervyn S. Bennion.
Bennion, though mortally wounded, clung tenaciously to life until just before the ship was abandoned, getting everyone off the ship that he could.
For his conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, Captain Bennion was awarded a Medal of Honor, posthumously.
There's no telling how many lives he saved that day; as it was, over a hundred were lost.
With a patch over the damaged area of her hull, the battleship was pumped out and ultimately refloated on May 17, 1942.
She had risen, phoenix-like, from the destruction at Pearl Harbor and would be outfitted with a streamlined superstructure, a wider hull, and improved anti-aircraft gun battery.
All put to good use.
For in October of 1944, she was in the pre-invasion bombardment of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines.
She was one of the ships that stopped the Japanese battleships in the Battle of Surigao Strait, the last time in history that battleships fought battleships with their big guns.
August 15, 1945.
It was over.
The USS West Virginia reached Tokyo Bay on the last day of August and was present at the time of the formal surrender on September 2, 1945.
She wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
This is one story that emerged from those dark hours.
But it's really about all those brave men and women of the United States Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force that kept the faith and carried on.
The ones that could.
To all of them, we owe a debt of gratitude that we can never repay.
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Has December 7th been lost in the shuffle of time?