By Norris Hermsmeyer (Acct’67)
It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. “It” refers to finding a sailor who had served on the USS Colorado during World War II, who was also a student or alum of the University of Colorado. In the mid-1990s, while serving on the CU alumni board, occasionally writing stories for the Alumnus (now Coloradan) magazine and being a CU-NROTC graduate and Naval officer, I wondered if such a person existed. After a two-year search I located Don Bloomquist (MechEngr’44) of Littleton, Colo., who fit the description of the man I was looking for. He has since died.
My goal was to make sure the third warship named after the state of Colorado was adequately recognized and artifacts from it preserved. The lack of recognition by the State of Colorado, which gave its name to the battleship, had left a bitterness with the sailors who served aboard the ship.
One of the interesting facts about Bloomquist was he worked at the Federal Center in Lakewood for a number of years, and he discovered one of the ship’s bells in storage at the Federal Center which eventually led to the bell being transferred to the University Memorial Center on the CU-Boulder campus.
In the course of my search for Bloomquist, I came in contact with the USS Colorado Alumni Association, a group of former sailors who, along with their wives and families, meet in annual reunions. One of the Association’s goals is to foster remembrance of the ship and the men who served on board.
There had been some other recognition. One of the former shipmates, Marine Chris Baker, author of Teakwood Decks (Susquehanna Publishers), a history of the USS Colorado, had collected a variety of photos and artifacts to donate to the Colorado Historical Society. There was an understanding on the part of the USS Colorado Alumni Association that the society would maintain a permanent display of ship artifacts in its collection, but the society maintains that such a promise was never made and that its responsibility was to preserve the items donated for posterity. Those photos and relics are available to view by appointment only.
The battleship USS Colorado was commissioned in 1923 and decommissioned in 1947. Its history is that of distinguished service, particularly in World War II. It was not in Pearl Harbor at the outbreak of the war in 1941 because it was being overhauled for modern warfare in the state of Washington. It saw service throughout World War II, however, particularly in the Pacific where it was active in 10 significant battles. It was struck by a “kamikaze” aircraft in November 1944 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. It was the first battleship in Tokyo Bay at the end of the war, but because the peace treaty was signed on the USS Missouri, it wasn’t recognized for the actual peace signing.
Prior to the war, the USS Colorado was the lead ship in the search for explorer Amelia Earhart in July 1937. Apparently CU President George Norlin (1919-1939) was aboard the ship during the search as part of a familiarization tour.
There are a number of items from the USS Colorado at the Veteran’s Lounge in the UMC at CU-Boulder. Particularly notable are the stern pilot’s wheel and the ship’s bell. The bell was made from copper pennies donated by Colorado school children. Later the bell was removed from the ship to prevent it from being damaged during warfare and mysteriously disappeared for several years.
The bell was found in 1947 inside a chapel in the jungles of the Philippines and was returned to the ship prior to its 1947 decommissioning. The bell was removed again before the ship was stripped and sold for scrap in 1959. Shortly thereafter, in 1960, the bell was presented to the State of Colorado by the U.S. Department of the Navy. In 1961 the state turned it over to CU and it has been in the UMC ever since.
Because the UMC is dedicated to those who served in the “great wars” the Veterans Lounge in the UMC became the host to various artifacts from the ship. With the backing of the USS Colorado Alumni Association and through the sponsorship by UMC director Carlos Garcia, several additions to the UMC were made. A waterline one-meter scale model of the U.S.S. Colorado was constructed by Dave Runkle in 1988 and donated to the Veteran’s Lounge by the U.S.S. Colorado Alumni Association in 2002. Each year on Veterans Day (Nov. 11), Garcia honors USS Colorado servicemen in a speech and calls out the items on display in the Veteran’s Lounge.
In 2003 a model of the ship was added to the Veterans Lounge. In 2004 what is known as the “Sunday Flag,” measuring 9 feet by 17 feet, as well as some other items, were donated to the university. In 2007, the UMC hosted a reunion for those who had served on the USS Colorado, one of the last reunions for these sailors, as the remaining men who served aboard the ship are in their late 80’s and early 90’s.
In addition, in order to develop an awareness of the role of the USS Colorado statewide, I undertook a project to develop a memorial for the ship at the State Capitol. This search resulted in a freestanding bench on the northeast corner of the State Capitol grounds. It was dedicated in March 1997 by Gov. Roy Romer (Law’52, HonDocHum’06) and was the last freestanding memorial to be allowed on State Capitol grounds
I have also helped to assemble additional photos of the USS Colorado in action along with other artifacts and have donated them to both the Broomfield and Fort Morgan Military History museums along with the Colorado Historical Society for preservation.
Finally, along with several veterans from the ship I assembled photos and artifacts that have become the focal point for the Naval Reserve quarterdeck at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo., which was dedicated in May of 2010. Almost the entire display focuses on the service the USS Colorado provided. This is intentional, as many recruits from Colorado get their first visual experience of being in the Navy when they walk into the Buckley Navy Reserve Center and see the historical record of the ship.
Norris Hermsmeyer (Acct’67) has called Boulder his home for 50 years, although he has spent considerable time overseas with the Navy in Vietnam and as a church volunteer in India, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar and Kenya. As a community volunteer, he has been active with the CU-Boulder, Sister Cities and Rotary. He is still active as a Boulder Realtor. Norris and his wife have three wonderful college-age children.