SEATAC, Wash. – When sailors visit the USO SeaTac Airport center, one of the first things USO Northwest volunteer Douglas Hoople asks them to do is to look down at the floor.
“Do you know what that is?” Hoople will ask, receiving few, if any, responses.
“That is part of the decking from the WWII battleship USS Colorado," he’ll say. "I always make sure to tell our visiting sailors about that.”
The floorboards, which cover 1,500-square-feet of the brand-new 7,500-square-foot facility, were a gift from Boeing who owned the teak boards for over 50 years.
Colorado, which was the third of the Colorado fleet of ships, first commissioned in August 30, 1923. The ship sailed a maiden voyage to Europe before returning to the U.S. and heading to San Francisco to be part of the Pacific fleet. From 1924 to 1941, the ship participating in various exercises and missions and even sailed in search of Amelia Earhart in 1937.
During WWII, Colorado sailed far and wide throughout the Pacific. The ship participated in many of historic battles including the pre-invasion bombardments in Lingayen Gulf and the invasion of Okinawa. In 1944, while near the Leyte Gulf of the Philippines, kamakazies bombarded the ship, killing and wounding several sailors as well as causing damage to Colorado. Colorado received seven battle stars for its WWII service.
In 1947, Colorado decommissioned and was sold for scrap in 1959. In 1961, Boeing purchased the floor boards and installed them into its development center cafeteria walls. The company kept the historical boards for over fifty years until they donated them to USO Northwest during a special ceremony on February 7, 2014.
“Our organization truly understands the significance of this donation and is honored to be the new caretaker of this teakwood planking for as long as the USO exists at SeaTac Airport,“ USO Northwest Executive Director Don Leingang said at the ceremony, according to the Tukwila Reporter.
Later that spring, just before USO Northwest installed the floorboards into the USO SeaTac Airport center, they invited surviving veterans of Colorado to visit the center and walk on the floorboards one last time. 14 veterans and their families attended the special event and each former sailor received a commemorative piece of the deck in honor of their service.
"They had to tell us the years that they were on the ship and what their job on the ship was,” said USO Northwest volunteer Lonnie Stevenson, who attended the event. “And they were so proud and it was really cool.”
In addition to the historical flooring, the USO SeaTac Airport center boasts a slew of other historical military artifacts, including a bell from the WWII battleship USS West Virginia. West Virginia, like many other battleships, sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The ship was later pulled from the depths of the harbor, repaired and sent back into battle by July 1944.
“If you look at the bell, instead of it being straight up, it’s leaned it at about eleven o’clock because the arm of the bell was bent under the weight of the ship when it sank at Pearl Harbor,“ Leingang said.
During WWII, West Virginia sailed throughout the Pacific and helped capture key targets including Mindoro, Lingayen Gulf, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. In 1947, West Virginia decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1959.
In 201X, Johnny Smith donated the bell to USO Northwest after he stumbled upon the relic while cleaning out his father’s garage.
“[Smith] goes, ‘This has been in my dad’s garage for like 50 years. And now I know what to do with it,’” Leingang said. “And I’m like, ‘What is it?’ And I’m looking and its like this green, ugly bell and we shined it up and its all bent up [and we put it in the center for others to see].”