Seventy-five years ago, the United States suffered its most devastating attack by a foreign power when a Japanese striking force came in from the Pacific, launching a surprise attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor. From the attack and the war that followed, heroes were born, but not all of these heroes were flesh and blood. Many of the ships that took the brunt of Japan’s attack and joined the effort in the Pacific received multiple commendations for their efforts.
While many battleships entered the fray, there was one that took part in vital Allied missions, earning it more decorations than any other World War II battleship. The USS North Carolina (BB-55) wasn’t present at the attack on Pearl Harbor, but her contributions to the war effort were recognized by many.
The USS North Carolina
The USS North Carolina was commissioned on April 9th, 1941, almost a year after her launch in June of 1940. Through the first half of 1942, the vessel remained in the Atlantic, acting as a counter for the German battleship Tirpitz, preventing her from firing on convoys heading for the United Kingdom.
Finally, in July of 1942, the North Carolina joined the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, earning praise from the sailors stationed there and boosting morale that was still scarred from the December 7th attack. Soon after arriving, she departed as part of a task force headed to the South Pacific alongside the aircraft carrier Enterprise and the cruisers Portland and Atlanta.
Over the course of her World War II career, the USS North Carolina took part in all of the major actions in the Pacific. She engaged the Japanese in the Battles of Guadalcanal, the Eastern Solomon Islands, and Okinawa, among many others, and participated in multiple raids on Japanese-controlled islands, earning 15 battle stars to become the most decorated American battleship of the war.
Memorializing the War
In June of 1947, the North Carolina was decommissioned from service and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in 1960. In 1962 she was dedicated as a memorial to those killed in the Second World War. Today, the North Carolina is a museum ship moored in Wilmington, NC, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
Like the Battleship Missouri at Pearl Harbor, the USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial allows travelers to traverse the ship’s main deck and see her two 16” turrets and a selection of interior compartments, giving a real sense of what life on the high seas was like for these World War II sailors.