"It just wasn't worth the effort to launch," he said.
Instead, Toler's battleship found a home in the Raleigh County Veterans Museum at 1557 Harper Road in Beckley, a short distance off the West Virginia Turnpike. The ship, surrounded by memorabilia from the full-scale USS West Virginia, is on display in a picture window-equipped room facing busy Harper Road.
"At night, it's all lit up, making it sort of a Statue of Liberty for Beckley," Toler said.
The retired teacher, who became affiliated with the museum in 2003, two years after it was founded, now serves as its director.
A dedication ceremony for the USS West Virginia model and its accompanying display was held in 2009.
Several former crewmembers of the battlewagon visited the museum during the dedication, and several more have toured the exhibit since then. Former crewman Chester Fitzwater of Beckley, who died not long after the 2009 ceremony, used Toler's ship to point out the anti-aircraft gun he manned when the West Virginia was attacked by Japanese suicide dive-bombers during the invasion of Okinawa in 1945.
"He showed me the starboard quarterdeck quad-40mm gun he was loading, and where the plane came down into the 20mm gallery at midship," Toler said. "He said he could see the fuse get torn off the bomb" just as it came in contact with a railing, which explains why the bomb, which penetrated two decks, did not explode.
Five men were killed and several others were seriously wounded in the Okinawa kamikaze attack.
"For some of the old World War II sailors who come here," Toler said, "seeing this ship can be an emotional trip."
In addition to the room housing the 20-foot version of the West Virginia -- nicknamed the "Wee-Vee" by its crew -- the museum has a room dedicated to more items from, and about, the battleship. "We have the biggest collection of West Virginia items anywhere," said Toler.
The collection includes the hat worn by Lt. Claude Ricketts during the Pearl Harbor attack, in which the West Virginia was struck by seven torpedoes and two bombs. Ricketts tended to the ship's mortally wounded commanding officer, Capt. Mervyn Bennion, on the ship's bridge, and then went below decks to counter-flood and stabilize the Wee-Vee when it began listing dangerously, preventing the ship from capsizing.
Other exhibits include a "disabled" signal flag that few above the battleship immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack, uniforms worn by crewmen, menus from holiday meals served aboard the battleship, copies of the ship's newspaper, deck logs and certificates issued to crewmen admitted into the "Order of Neptune" after crossing the equator for the first time. There are silver trays presented to officers during the 1930s, including one issued to Ensign John Hewitt of Bramwell, and thousands of photographs of the ship from its launching in 1921 to its participation in the Japanese surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay in 1945 and its decommissioning in 1947.
"They eventually scrapped her, turning her into beer cans and razor blades," said Toler.
A chance to see the painstakingly created 20-foot version of their ship was a primary reason why 11 surviving members of the ship's crew will hold their 2012 -- and possibly final -- reunion in the state for which their vessel was named.
During their three-day stay here, which begins Friday, the Wee-Vee veterans and their families will tour the Culture Center in Charleston, where a number of artifacts from, and photos of, the battleship are housed. On Sunday, they will travel to Beckley, where they will attend a luncheon in their honor at Pasquale's restaurant and then tour the Raleigh County Veterans Museum and its USS West Virginia exhibits.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.