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West Virginia State Archives posts on-line exhibit of the USS West Virginia battleship

11/6/01

The West Virginia State Archives of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History has posted an on-line presentation of the battleship USS West Virginia. The exhibit features hundreds of photographs and documents relating to the ship, as well as the reminiscences of more than 20 sailors who were serving aboard the ship at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. The exhibit can be viewed at http://www.wvculture.org/history/usswv/usswv.html.

The USS West Virginia was commissioned on Dec. 1, 1923, becoming the last battleship constructed prior to World War II. It was moored at Pearl Harbor with most of the Pacific Fleet at the time of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack. The West Virginia was hit by seven 18-inch aircraft torpedoes and two bombs, and sank to the bottom of the harbor. Two officers and 102 men lost their lives aboard the ship.

Despite extensive damage, the ship was raised, repaired and modernized, and returned to active duty in the fall of 1944. On Oct. 12, 1944, the West Virginia left stateside port to participate in the invasion of the Philippine Islands. In February 1945, the ship arrived at Iwo Jima to provide support for the invasion. At the end of March, the West Virginia reached Okinawa and participated in bombarding the island in preparation for the amphibious assault. During that battle, the ship was hit by an enemy plane, but the crew was able to contain the flames. On Aug. 31, the West Virginia steamed into Tokyo Bay and two days later, at the Japanese surrender, it was the only ship present that had been attacked at Pearl Harbor.

On Jan. 9, 1947, the USS West Virginia was decommissioned and placed in reserve. The ship remained inactive until struck from the Navy List in 1959. Less than two years later, it was dismantled and sold for scrap.

Materials for the on-line exhibition were donated to the West Virginia Division of Culture and History by Clyde Lathey, who founded the Battleship USS West Virginia BB-48 Museum in Parkersburg. Lathey became interested in the battleship’s history while attending the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. Apprentice School from 1961-65. He began to accumulate his collection in 1986 when Williamstown resident Jay Stead stopped by his shop, and noticing the memorabilia, offered to build a scale model of the ship. When the replica was completed, Lathey took pictures of the model and sent 600 copies to former members of the ship’s crew.

The former crewmen then began sending items they had gathered during their tenure on the ship, including more than 100 photographs of the ship and former crew, a bell from the ship’s 100-foot motor launch, pieces of the flag flying from the ship when it was hit at Pearl Harbor, a Seth Thomas shipboard clock, empty ration cans, spent flashlight batteries, a piece of metal from the Japanese kamikaze pilot’s plane that hit the ship at the battle of Okinawa and much more. Lathey donated these objects to the Division last December.

For more information about Lathey’s collection, contact Debra Basham, archivist for the Division at (304) 558-0230.

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. The Cultural Center is West Virginia’s official showcase for the arts. Visit the Division’s website at www.wvculture.org for more information about programs of the Division. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.

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