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USS West Virginia the focus of new Culture Center exhibit opening for 75th Pearl Harbor anniversary

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Next week’s 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor is being commemorated with a special exhibit dedicated to the USS West Virginia at the state Culture Center.

The Pearl Harbor attack that brought the United States into World War II came on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941 near Honolulu, Hawaii. The surprise attack killed 2,000 U.S. military members and wounded 1,000 others.

In all, more than 300 airplanes and nearly 20 American naval vessels were destroyed, including nine U.S. Navy battleships. The USS West Virginia was one of the battleships that sunk.

A large model of the battleship, built prior to the “date which will live in infamy,” dominates the new exhibit which is located in the balcony area of the Culture Center at the State Capitol Complex.

“That actually was made from stolen naval plans and it’s very detailed. It took three years to build. It was made from 1930 to 1933,” said Charles Morris, director of museums for the state Division of Culture and History, of the model.

On Sunday, Dec. 4, the special exhibit, “75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor: USS West Virginia,” opens to the public with a Culture Center reception in the Great Hall at 2 p.m.

The free exhibit runs through mid-February as an extension of the regular USS West Virginia exhibit at the State Museum that Morris said is perennially among its most popular.

“Behind the battleship model will be a 48-star flag, the United States flag that was on the battleship,”¬†said Cailin Howe, exhibits coordinator. “The flag actually is dated Aug. 1941. It’s stamped on the left side of it, so anybody that comes will be able to see that.”

On Dec. 7, 1941, seven torpedoes and as many as two bombs hit the USS West Virginia. It was the first of the battleships hit, according to Howe. A total of 106 people on board died.

Six months later, the USS West Virginia was raised and refloated for repairs. She returned to duty in mid-1944 and was in service in the Pacific at the time of the Japanese surrender in 1945.

“It was the only ship that was sunk at Pearl Harbor and at the surrender. That is very significant,” Morris said.

The exhibit includes items recovered after the USS West Virginia was raised.

“We’ve got some of the coins. This is a locket and a pocket watch. There’s a button and I believe the button actually says ‘California,’ so it could have been a button from the USS California,” Howe pointed out to MetroNews on Thursday.

Of a small piece of dark wood in the clear display case, “We do have documentation that this is a chunk of the original floorboard (from the ship),” Howe said.

The new USS West Virginia was not an exact replica of the original USS West Virginia and those differences are evident in exhibit photos.

“She was technically an outdated ship so, in order for her to go back into action, they totally redesigned it, the paint is different, it’s a camouflage paint,” Howe explained. “She looks like a modern battleship when she goes back to action in ’44.”

The original USS West Virginia, the last battleship built before World War II, was commissioned on Dec. 1, 1923. It had joined the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor a year before the Japanese attack.

After being rebuilt, one of the ship’s missions was Operation Magic Carpet, which focused on bringing prisoners of war home from the Pacific front.

“We have a pretty long and distinguished history with our ship,” Howe said.

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