Wednesday, December 7, 2011
A date that still lives in infamy
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, an attack that cost 2,390 American lives and launched the United States into full-fledged involvement in World War Two. Fifty-five Japanese airmen were killed and 29 of their aircraft were shot down in the attack.
Hardest hit at Pearl Harbor were the “battlewagons”, the battleships moored together along Battleship Row. Hard hit, yes, but obliterated, no.
USS Nevada, the only battleship to actually get underway during the attack, was hit by a torpedo and six bombs and was beached. She was refloated in February of 1942 and after repairs returned to duty in October of the same year. She served as a convoy escort in the Atlantic and as a fire-support ship in four amphibious assaults: the Normandy Landings and the invasions of Southern France, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.
USS Maryland took two bomb hits and after repairs returned to service in February 1942. Already in dry dock for repairs, USS Pennsylvania was severely strafed and took a bomb hit. After repairs she returned to duty in April, 1942.After taking two bomb hits, USS Tennessee was repaired and returned to duty in late February, 1942. After taking two torpedoes and a bomb hit, USS California had her bow plates ruptured by a near miss bomb. After three days of continual flooding, she settled into the mud at the harbor bottom with only her superstructure remaining above the surface. She was refloated in March of 1942, sent for repair and rebuild, and returned to service in January, 1944.Two bombs and seven torpedoes struck USS West Virginia, also putting her on the bottom. She was eventually refloated on 17 May, 1942, and in May of 1943 she was sent for a complete rebuild, coming back into service in July, 1944.
Not all the ships, however, returned to the war. Within 12 minutes of the beginning of the attack, USS Oklahoma had taken five torpedo hits and capsized. Salvage began in July of 1942, and after 8 months of preparation and 4 months of efforts she was righted and refloated in June of 1943, too badly damaged to be saved. She was decommissioned in January, 1944 and sold for scrap in 1946. As she was being towed to a salvage yard in San Francisco she sank in a storm 540 miles out of Pearl Harbor in May of 1947.
USS Utah, an obsolete training battleship, capsized during the assault on Pearl Harbor. Partially righted to clear the shipping lane, it was declared surplus and never refloated. Major portions of the hull still rust on the bottom off Ford Island. And, finally, USS Arizona; about 7 seconds after her fourth bomb hit, her powder magazine exploded. The explosion killed 1,177 of the 1,400 crewmen on board at the time, almost half of the lives lost during the attack.USS Utah before the war, and today...
The USS Arizona Memorial
The battleships of Pearl did have their revenge however at the Battle of Leyte Gulf during the invasion of the Philippines. USS West Virginia, USS Tennessee, USS Maryland, USS California and USS Pennsylvania all were part of 7th Fleet providing fire support to the troops going ashore. When the Japanese fleet appeared steaming through the Surigao Strait, Admiral Jesse Oldendorf sent them to meet the oncoming foe. They helped send the Japanese battleships Yamashiro and Fuso to the bottom, along with the cruiser Mogami and the destroyer Asagumo. West Virginia led the assault, firing 96 shells into the Japanese ships to make up for the torpedoes and bombs she took at Pearl Harbor.
Just the Utah and the Arizona still lie in the dark blue waters of Pearl Harbor, memorials to the sailors still entombed in their wrecked hulls. And only survivors of those vessels may return in death to their ships to rejoin their lost shipmates. You see, many survivors of Pearl have over the years opted to either have their ashes scattered in the harbor or in the case of former crewmembers of Utah and Arizona, placed in the ships themselves.
Lee Soucy decided five years ago that when he died he wanted to join his shipmates killed in the attack. Soucy passed away this past January at the age of 90 and yesterday, seven decades after dozens of fellow sailors were killed when the USS Utah sank, a Navy diver took a small urn containing his ashes and put it in a porthole of the ship. The Utah lost nearly 60 men on December 7, and about 50 are still entombed in the battleship.
The ceremony for Lee Soucy was one of five memorials being held this week for servicemen who lived through the assault and want their remains placed in Pearl Harbor out of pride and affinity for those they left behind. Soucy's three children, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, 11 family members altogether, attended the sunset ceremony Tuesday. His wife Peggy also died earlier this year, and Soucy's children also will spread ashes belonging to their father and mother at St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral in Honolulu, where the pair were married in January 1945. Peggy Soucy was a Navy nurse who met her future husband at Pearl Harbor.
Tonight, an urn carrying the ashes of Vernon Olsen, who was among the 334 on the Arizona to survive the attack, will be interred in a gun turret on the ship. He passed away in April at the age of 91 after a bout of pneumonia.Vernon Olsen during the war...
Three other servicemen will also have their ashes scattered at Pearl this week. Pearl Harbor interment and ash scattering ceremonies began in the late 1980s, and started growing in number as more survivors heard about them. Jim Taylor, a retired sailor who coordinates the ceremonies, has helped 265 survivors return to Pearl Harbor. The vast majority have had their ashes scattered, however he's arranged for the remains of about 20 survivors to be placed in the Arizona and about a dozen to be put in the Utah.
Each year, the number of Pearl Harbor survivors shrinks as their members pass away. Each year it becomes harder and harder for survivors to gather at Pearl. Sadly, the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association has decided to disband at the end of the month. So if you are fortunate enough to ever meet a Pearl Harbor survivor, consider yourself blessed to be in the presence of one of the remaining heroes of The Greatest Generation.
Divers prepare to take an urn carrying the cremains of Petty Officer Charles Guerin, Jr. below to be placed inside USS Arizona on December 7, 2008.