THE USS ``WEST VIRGINIA''; Congressional Record Vol. 163, No. 131
(Senate - August 02, 2017)

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[Page S4758]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




                       THE USS ``WEST VIRGINIA''

  Mrs. CAPITO. Mr. President, I would like to recognize the service of 
the first ship named for our Nation's 35th State--our only State born 
of war--the armored cruiser USS West Virginia. She was commissioned on 
February 23, 1905, and served in both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. 
On two occasions, she deployed to Mexico to enforce U.S. diplomacy. In 
1916, she was renamed the USS Huntington, in order to permit the 
assignment of her old name to a new battleship.
  That new battleship--the second USS West Virginia--was commissioned 
in December 1923 and affectionately nicknamed the ``Wee Vee.'' In 1940, 
she moved to Hawaii and became part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. She was 
the youngest of all the battleships at Pearl Harbor. During the attack 
on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the USS West Virginia was moored 
outboard the USS Tennessee; as a result, the Tennessee was not hit by a 
single torpedo, while the West Virginia was hit by nine torpedoes.
  Despite being mortally wounded by shrapnel, the ship's captain, 
Mervyn S. Bennion, remained on the bridge ordering counterflooding of 
starboard compartments to prevent capsizing; for his actions, Captain 
Bennion posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Captain 
Bennion's actions are regularly cited as the epitome of proper command 
under fire.
  Displaying a resilience befitting the people of her namesake, the USS 
West Virginia refused to stay sunk. She was pumped out and refloated on 
May 17, 1942, and sailed to Puget Sound Navy Yard for repairs. After 
being fully modernized, she saw action in the invasion of the 
Philippines, the Battle of Iwo Jima, and the Battle of Okinawa, among 
others. She was present in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, for the 
formal Japanese surrender.
  The USS West Virginia was decommissioned on January 9, 1947; her 
awards included the American Defense Service Medal with ``Fleet'' 
clasp; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with five battle stars; the 
World War II Victory Medal; and the Navy Occupation Medal with ``Asia'' 
clasp. An antiaircraft gun remains at City Park in Parkersburg, WV; the 
ship's wheel and binnacle are on display at the Hampton Roads Naval 
Museum. Her mast sits in front of Oglebay Hall at West Virginia 
University, and Interstate 470 in West Virginia is named the ``USS West 
Virginia Memorial Highway.''
  The U.S. Navy resurrected the proud history of the 35th State's 
moniker with a 1983 contract to build a Ship, Submarine, Ballistic, 
Nuclear, SSBN, the 11th of an eventual 18 Ohio-class submarines, 
otherwise to be known as the USS West Virginia, SSBN 736. She was 
launched on October 14, 1989, sponsored by Mrs. Erma Byrd, wife--and 
high school sweetheart--of the now late U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, of 
West Virginia--the longest serving Senator and the longest serving 
Member in the history of the U.S. Congress--and commissioned on October 
20, 1990.
  The USS West Virginia, SSBN 736 conducts a sacred mission. It has 
often been said that, if the U.S. Navy could only send one platform to 
sea, it is the SSBN that executes the most important mission: the 
mission of strategic deterrence.
  Always at the tip of the spear, the USS West Virginia conducts 
operations in order to exploit the advantages of undersea operation. It 
can be deployed up to 15 months at a time. As the submariner identity 
states: ``We are elite, selective and high performing. We operate 
forward at the tip of the spear. This is the only survivable nuclear 
deterrent. Last bastion of master and commander.''
  West Virginia is proud of the honor, courage, and commitment of the 
brave sailors who crew and have crewed the USS West Virginia, and we 
are eternally grateful for the sacrifices that you and your families 
make in service to the United States of America.
  ``Montani Semper Liberi.''

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