Thursday, December 6, 2001


Bryan Alexander, second from left, son of USS Oklahoma sailor Walter Lutenegger, saluted during the playing of taps yesterday afternoon during the scattering of his father's ashes aboard the USS Missouri as he was flanked by his father's World War II shipmates.

Son fulfills sailor’s
final wish

The ashes of a USS Oklahoma
sailor are scattered at sea

Special: Fading voices
WTC, Pearl survivors meet
Intel gap cited in Pearl attack

By Gregg K. Kakesako

A son fulfilled a promise yesterday when he scattered the ashes of his father from the fantail of the USS Missouri.

Gunner Mate 2nd class Walter "Dutch" or "High Pockets" Lutenegger survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 60 years ago. His son, Bryan Alexander, said he nearly missed yesterday's ceremony because he lost his job as a senior manager in a New Jersey computer systems company in the economic aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"But it was my sons who convinced me that I should attend this ceremony," Alexander said. "They insisted that I go since they thought it was important for my father."
special section

Fading voices: Honoring those
who died on Dec. 7, 1941

Click to enter the special section

As a child, Alexander said, he remembers his father waking up at nights screaming about what had taken place at Pearl Harbor -- the smell of burning oil, the explosions, gunfire and the mooring lines that snapped, cutting his shipmates on the battleship USS Oklahoma in half. Four hundred twenty-nine sailors from the Oklahoma were killed during the attack.

"I needed to be here to bring closure to his passing," said Alexander, a Vietnam War veteran.

Alexander said that three years ago, his father, realizing that he was dying of cancer, opened up about the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941, and what happened on the USS Oklahoma.

"Originally," Alexander said, "my father said he wanted to be buried at sea where the Oklahoma sank, but later changed his mind."

The Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island's battleship row near the USS Arizona, was hit by seven to nine torpedoes. It was refloated in 1943 and taken into dry dock. But because it was so badly damaged, it was never restored and was sold for scrap. In 1947 the Oklahoma sank 540 miles northeast of Hawaii while being towed to the mainland.

Twenty-one Oklahoma survivors participated in yesterday's ceremony, taking turns filling the black urn that held some of Lutenegger's ashes with water drawn from Pearl Harbor. Some of Lutenegger's ashes were buried in Burlington, Iowa, where he lived until he died in 1999 of liver cancer.

Then as a sole bagpiper played "Amazing Grace," Alexander emptied the urn into the harbor.

As Navy chaplain Lt. Lee Hellwig said a final prayer, the fraternity of survivors formed a circle, joining hands with Alexander.

Oklahoma survivor August VanGampeleare, sitting in a wheelchair, wept.

Although VanGampeleare, 79, said he did not know Lutenegger, he said all these reunions are "very emotional."

Chester Jankowski did not get to know Lutenegger until after Pearl Harbor when they were both assigned to the USS Massachusetts. "He was a kind of a laid-back guy."

And as Rear Adm. Robert Conway, Pearl Harbor Navy Region commander, noted in reading the eulogy: "Walter's story is not unlike those sailors, Marines and soldiers who rest in these hallowed grounds and seas. ... Like his shipmates and those brothers-in-arms here honoring Walter Joseph Lutenegger, they did not plan to be brave. They did not plan to be heroes."

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