USS Nevada (BB-36) June 6, 1944, Normandy France - 80-G-252412 SL
“We never moved from our gun turret for those 80 hours. ... I was so hungry, but we never stopped shooting as the invasion was taking place.” SA Cliff Burkes
On June 6, 1944, the USS Nevada cleared the way for the Allied troops landing at Utah Beach as part of D-Day's Operation Neptune. The USS Nevada, launched in 1914, may have been the oldest battleship at Normandy but the average age of her crew was 19 1/2.
“We got to battle stations at about 4:30 a.m. and didn’t leave for 80 hours,” said Coxswain Dick Ramsey, a powderman who helped load the five-inch, 38-calibre guns. “When the invasion began about 6:30, at high tide and first light, we fired ten 10-gun salvos from our big 14-inch guns, to make holes for the troops to get in and knock down the seawall. The five-inch guns were taking out any machine guns we saw."
In one 20-minute barrage, USS Nevada's weapons wiped out 90 German tanks and 20 trucks from 15 miles away.
According to Ramsey, the 5-inch guns fired up to 26 rounds a minute until the gun became too hot to touch. In the turret, the heat was overpowering, like working in an oven. “Nobody inside was over the age of 19,” Ramsey said. “There was a lot of sweat, a lot of cursing. It was hot as hell because the ship was buttoned up to keep it airtight in case of sinking. Every once in a while, they’d crack a hatch and let in a little air for us.”
Music would play over the Nevada's radio during breaks in the shelling. One of the most remembered songs - Dinah Shore singing, “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.”
The men in Ramsey's turret were better prepared for the invasion than others. They were drinking water from a bucket, eating K-rations and sleeping for a few hours on the hot metal floor, waiting for the next “Commence firing” order. Cliff Burkes relates that his crew were sent down a can of peaches, “Thirteen peaches were in this can and there were 12 of us. Each of us got one peach and the last one we split into 13 small pieces."
As a tribute for their D-Day actions, the citizens of the silver state of Nevada had collected over two thousand silver dollars for the crew of their namesake ship. At Norfolk, VA on November 19, 1944, the ship's crew was assembled on the USS Nevada's deck. To transport the bounty, a solid Nevada mined magnesium chest two feet long, one foot high and eighteen inches wide was built to hold the coins. As the ship's band played patriotic tunes, each officer and man were gifted a silver dollar. The silver dollars became good luck pieces that the men proudly carried in future battles.