Richard Ramsey served on the battleship at Normandy and in the Pacific
One of the greatest warships that sailed for the U.S. Navy has been eternally etched into the Silver State’s history. The USS Nevada, which first saw action during World War I and then extensively during the second world war at Normandy and the Pacific theater, used her big guns and dedicated crew to help defeat the Axis powers in 1945.
Hundreds of sailors served on the Gray Lady during her 31 years, including 100-year-old Richard “Dick” Ramsey, one of the ship’s remaining survivors. Charles Sehe, who lives in Minnesota, is another survivor who has participated in USS Nevada ceremonies over the years, including a 2016 remembrance ceremony behind the Nevada capitol.
Ramsey placed a wreath at the USS Nevada memorial behind the state capitol on Sunday, which was attended by a Navy honor guard and commanding officer at Naval Air Station Fallon, the director of the Nevada Department of Veterans Services (NDVS) and the chaplain from the Nevada State Veterans Home in Sparks. John Galloway, director of the USS Nevada Project, organized the event and arranged for Ramsey’s three-day trip to Reno and then to. Carson City. Ramsey lives in Santa Clarita, California, with his daughter Patrice Whitbread.
THE NEVADA’S FINEST HOUR
Over the years, Galloway has been fascinated with the USS Nevada and says he wants the world to know more about the gallantry of the iconic warship.
“One of the USS Nevada’s many finest hours came at Pearl Harbor, but few know it. When you mention the attack on Pearl Harbor, people immediately think of the USS Arizona, as they should,” Galloway said at the USS Nevada Memorial. “Having lost 1,177 crewmen of the 2,403 lost during the attack, it is only fitting. But if not for the actions of the USS Nevada, many more would have died.
“Moored behind the USS Arizona when she detonated, the Nevada rescued Arizona survivors as she mobilized, and in doing so, the Nevada took fire, relentless fire, intended for other targets. The Nevada saved lives by mobilizing, but she also saved herself, for the heat radiating from the burning Arizona was so intense that it superheated the sides of the Nevada. Had the USS Nevada not mobilized, the ship’s fuel and munitions would have detonated.”
If the fuel and munitions had detonated, Galloway said the USS Nevada would have sunk in place with the other battleships, and she would also have been sunk in place like the USS Arizona.
According to historian and retired newspaper publisher David C. Henley, co-author of the book “Legacies of the Silver State: Nevada Goes to War,” the 583-foot USS Nevada was launched at the Boston Navy Yard on July 11, 1914. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 27 years later left 50 Nevada crew members dead or missing and 109 wounded. The battleship, however, was refloated and towed to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington for repairs and modernization. The Navy sent the Nevada to the Aleutian Islands, where its big guns supported the landings of 12,000 soldiers on Japanese-held Attu and Kiska islands. The ship sailed to the coast of France during the spring of 1944 to support the D-Day landings.
Ramsey enlisted in the Navy on March 16, 1943, when fighting intensified on the European continent and in the western Pacific Ocean. Call it coincidence or fate, Ramsey was a 20-year-old sailor born on the state of Nevada’s birthday, Oct. 31, 1923, in Brooklyn, New York. Although he was not involved with the gallantry of the USS Nevada at Pearl Harbor, Ramsey was an eyewitness to history when the battleship was part of the armada during the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion of Normandy.
“I was on the USS Nevada for 31 months, and my first action was in Normandy. We had a battle station, and everybody was secured,” Ramsey said. “We ate K-rations just like the troops, and initially Eisenhower had requested some big battle guns a blazing.”
Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, had planned and supervised the D-Day invasion. The battleship’s 10 14-inch guns hammered the German’s land fortifications and emplacements at Utah Beach. Still, Henley wrote that enemy shells fell harmlessly around the USS Nevada, and none of the mines floating near the ships involved in the invasion struck their targets.
“The Nevada expended 876 rounds from her main batteries and 3,500 from her five-inch guns,” Henley described. “Nine U.S. Navy warships and 11 large landing craft were sunk during the invasion. More than 30,000 Germans were killed or wounded and 15,000 taken prisoner.”
Ramsey, a pipefitter’s helper at the Brooklyn Navy Yard until he enlisted, had worked on the construction of the USS Iowa and Missouri and was part of the crew that completed repair work on the South Dakota. Once he had undergone his 10 weeks of boot camp at Naval Station Great Lakes north of Chicago, he reported to the USS Nevada, which was undergoing repairs and being retrofitted with more guns to provide a better air defense at the Bethlehem Steel Company Shipyard on the San Francisco Bay.
Ramsey said on-the-job training began on board the Nevada from the first day he was first assigned as powder man. Training was around-the-clock and exhausting, but Ramsey said the training paid off at Normandy. Once assigned to the Nevada, Ramsey and the other sailors learned more about the ship’s history and how it became the only battleship to get underway. More than 2,200 sailors — both officers and enlisted — made it a crowded ship, and Ramsey said there was “less elbow room” in the cramped 5-inch gun turrets when sailors would man their stations either during training or in combat.
Henley said it may have been the Normandy firepower that further distinguished the battleship nicknamed the “Invincible Nevada.” After the D-Day invasion, the USS Nevada was reassigned to southern France, and Ramsey said the three oldest battleships in the Navy — the Texas, Arkansas and Nevada — each had specific tasks during Operation Dragoon.
“Our guns destroyed gun emplacements defending Toulon,” Ramsey said.
NEVADA LEAVES EUROPE
The Nevada received orders on Sept. 2 to leave Europe and return to the eastern U.S. for repairs and modernization. Ramsey said one of the worst hurricanes to hit along the U.S. East Coast is still vivid for Ramsey today as it was almost 80 years ago.
“We left Europe and hit the worst storm in a 100 years,” Ramsey recalled. “We were caught up in the storm as we headed back to Norfolk, Virginia.
Once at the Norfolk Navy Yard, the Nevada received 14-inch gun barrels from the USS Arizona. Galloway said the Nevada had worn out her gun barrels.
“Three of the Nevada’s gun barrels were replaced with barrels exhumed from the remains of the Arizona, allowing the USS Arizona to fight on, with the help of the USS Nevada,” Galloway pointed out. “So Nevada and Arizona, both the ships and the states, are kindred spirits connected forever in history. I am humbled and proud to say that, before his death in 2018, Sen. John McCain of Arizona sent me a letter thanking me for my efforts.”
The USS Nevada received orders for a new mission in early 1945. Once repairs were finished, the Nevada left Norfolk, transited the Panama Canal and then headed toward Iwo Jima, site of one of the hardest fought battles in the Pacific.
“We went to Iwo Jima as the gunnery flagship,” Ramsey said. “We were there for 16 days, and we saw the U.S. flag on top of the mountain.”
U.S. Marines had raised the flag atop Mount Suribachi. On the small island about 760 miles south of Japan.
“Then we went to Okinawa,” Ramsey continued. “The Navy had 10,000 casualties, more than the troops had at Normandy.”
The Battle of Okinawa, labeled the bloodiest battle in the Pacific, involved more than 1,500 ships from April 1 to June 22, 1945. Ramsey said the initial invasion of Okinawa, code-named Operation Iceberg, was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater of World War II and lasted 82 days. During a Kamikaze attack, Japanese planes slammed into the USS Nevada, killing 11 sailors and wounding another 49.
In less than three months, though, the United States dropped a pair of atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, and less than three weeks later, an Instrument of Surrender was signed on Sept. 2 on the deck of the USS Missouri at Tokyo Bay between the Japanese government and the United States and allies.
Ramsey, who left the Navy in 1946, received numerous citations and medals, including the European Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Medal, the WWII Victory Medal and the French Legion of Honor.
STANDING THE WATCH
Capt. Shane Tanner, commanding officer at Naval Air Station Fallon, said sailors like Ramsey have proudly stood the watch for 248 years by “protecting our shores, enabling prosperity by maintaining freedom of the seas, and when history called upon him, stood firm in the face of brutal tyranny.”
Tanner said it was important to honor those sailors who served on the USS Nevada and fought for family, friends, peace, liberty and justice. The career naval officer said sailors like Ramsey must be remembered for being in harm’s way during all tensions and conflicts from the battlefields of the Revolutionary War to the Normandy beaches and the front lines of today.
“I am humbled and inspired by their service and their sacrifice,” Tanner said. “For their service inspires the next generation to raise their hand and take that sacred oath. And their sacrifice is why we come together today to remember why we love this great nation.”
Tanner said it was his honor to be at the USS Nevada Memorial for the hallowed ceremony.
“Your unwavering patriotism and service is the engine driving our republic forward,” Tanner added.
Chaplain Greg Watson from the Nevada State Veterans Home and Fred Wagar, director of the Nevada Department of Veterans Services, offered solemn words for the battleship and sailors who served her. Wagar provided a synopsis of the USS Nevada’s history. Civil Air Patrol cadet Abigail Matsuyoshi called for the honor guard to post the colors and led the congregation with the Pledge of Allegiance.
Ramsey also attended a pregame ceremony at Saturday’s Nevada-Hawaii collegiate football game. He was presented a U.S. flag and framed picture of the USS Nevada by University of Nevada, Reno President Brian Sandoval, who also presided over the 2016 ceremony as governor. During his two terms as governor, Sandoval’s goal was to make Nevada the most military-friendly state in the country and to recognize veterans and members of the armed forces.
“It is so humbling to be in the presence of Mr. Ramsey, a true American,” Sandoval said. “He served on the USS Nevada. We are humbled and honored to have Mr. Ramsey here and happy for the students who could see a war hero.”