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Aboard Nevada, Annapolis man made sacrifice at Pearl Harbor

THE BALTIMORE SUN

"I REMEMBER IT as a clear and beautiful day, with scattered clouds and not much wind." Joe Taussig was looking out at a gray day from his Annapolis home on Weems Creek, a vast distance from where he was on that other day, 58 years ago tomorrow.

Then-Ensign Taussig bounded topside into that lovely weather to assume command as officer of the deck of the USS Nevada. It was 7: 50 in the morning.

"The Nevada band was supposed to play 'The Star-Spangled Banner' at 8 o'clock sharp, and I remember being worried about the size of the flag for the ceremony. So, I sent someone to call across to the Arizona, which was moored just forward of us.

"Out of the corner of my eye I saw a Douglass torpedo bomber -- I knew my bombers, or so I thought. This one dropped a torpedo. Now, I had seen this before, and torpedoes normally went to a depth of 100 feet before rising for their run.

"I remember distinctly thinking: 'Well, we'll watch 'em dig this one out of the mud.' It's 40 feet deep in Pearl Harbor.

"Then, everything happened all at once. Adolpho Solar, my boatswain mate, a 100 percent professional, said they were bombing Ford Island. The plane turned off, and there it was on the wings, the Japanese Rising Sun."

Solar's call to battle stations -- "This is no drill!" -- sent Taussig to his post to direct anti-aircraft guns. He noticed immediately that Marines high above in "bird baths" along the mast already were working their .50-caliber machine guns.

Standing in his sky control station, he remembers, "I felt a very heavy blow on the bottom of my feet, concussion from a bomb explosion three decks below. Just seconds later I suddenly saw my left foot under my left armpit."

It was 30 years later, after minute study of the attack, that Taussig learned he had been struck by a strafing plane. Still conscious, lying with his head cradled in the lap of a sailor, Taussig ordered the Nevada to get under way.

He belittles his role: Orders were given by many ensigns and junior lieutenants because so many senior officers were ashore. Getting under way meant passing the Arizona, which was a flaming wreck, destruction that radiated to the Nevada.

"Men were burning," he said of his ship, "the deck was on fire, ammo was exploding, smoke everywhere, blood running down the starboard side. We had 60 killed and more than 100 wounded, most along the boat deck."

Solar was among those killed.

With 14 fires raging through the ship and the Japanese overhead in their second wave, the decision was made to run the Nevada aground, rather than risk its being sunk in the harbor mouth. Corpsman Ned Curtis risked his life to maneuver Taussig to a rescue vessel. He was rushed to a hospital.

Taussig lost his leg and endured 52 months of recuperation. He earned a law degree at George Washington University and served in the Navy until 1954, retiring as a captain. He was hired as a civilian in 1981 to help with the buildup of the Navy.

Rooted in (and for) Navy

There was little question whom he was rooting for Saturday during the 100th Army-Navy football game, won by Navy 19-9.

Taussig's grandfather graduated from the Naval Academy in 1867, his father in 1899, he in 1941, a son in 1966 and a grandson in 1993. Wife Betty Taussig is the daughter of the late Robert B. Carney, who was chief of naval operations.

Taussig is working on his life story. His wife is also working on a book, her third, about the lives of the academy's Class of '41.

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