By Sandi Moynihan
SEATTLE, Washington–When sailors walk into the USO SeaTac Airport center, Douglas Hoople asks them to look down.
“Do you know what that is?” Hoople, a USO Northwest volunteer, will ask. He gets few, if any, responses.
“That is part of the decking from the WWII battleship USS Colorado,” he’ll tell them. “I always make sure to tell our visiting sailors about that.”
The floorboards, which cover 1,500 square feet of the new 7,500-square-foot facility, were a gift from Boeing, which owned the teak boards for over 50 years.
A Historic Journey
The USS Colorado was commissioned Aug. 30, 1923. The ship sailed its 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 participated in various exercises and missions and even sailed in search of Amelia Earhart in 1937.
The Colorado also participated in multiple World War II battles, including the pre-invasion bombardments in Lingayen Gulf and the invasion of Okinawa.
In 1944, kamikazes attacked the ship near the Philippines’ Leyte Gulf, killing and wounding several sailors as well as causing damage to the Colorado, which received seven battle stars for its WWII service.
The Colorado was decommissioned in 1947 and sold for scrap in 1959. In 1961, Boeing purchased the decking and installed it on its development center cafeteria walls. The company displayed the boards for over 50 years until they donated them to USO Northwest at a Feb. 7, 2014, ceremony.
“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 (Washington) Reporter.
Later that spring, USO Northwest invited surviving USS Colorado veterans to visit the center and walk on the floorboards one last time before they were installed. Fourteen veterans and their families attended the special event and each received a commemorative piece of the deck in honor of their service.
In addition to the flooring, the USO’s SeaTac center also boasts a slew of other military artifacts, including a bell from the WWII battleship USS West Virginia, which sunk during the 1941 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 at about 11 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, the West Virginia sailed throughout the Pacific and helped capture key targets including Mindoro, Lingayen Gulf, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Like the USS Colorado, the West Virginia was decommissioned in 1947 and sold for scrap in 1959. In 2015 a USO supporter donated the bell to USO Northwest after he stumbled upon the relic while cleaning out his father’s garage.
“[The man who donated it] 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 it’s this green, ugly bell and we shined it up and its all bent up [and we put it in the center].”