Pride and sadnessIt has taken six decades for Navy Cross recipient Lt. Guy Pierce to return to Pearl Harbor.
at Utah Memorial
Survivors have struggledHonoring heroes
Historic day for Bulletin
War changed Kuakini
By Gregg K. Kakesako
For Robert Johnson this will be his 11th trip, and when he dies he has made plans to make a final one so that his ashes will be interned in the sunken wreck of the USS Utah.
And for Mary Kreigh this year's pilgrimage has been a continuation of an ongoing campaign to bring proper recognition to the six officers and 52 sailors of the USS Utah who were killed on Dec. 7, 1941. Only four bodies were recovered.
The ashes of Kreigh's twin sister -- Nancy Lynn Wagner -- also are entombed in the sunken, rusty wreck of the Utah. Wagner died at birth, and their father -- Chief Yeoman Albert Wagner -- had planned to have the baby's ashes scattered at sea when the Utah pulled out of Pearl Harbor.
With the guidance and help of Senior Master Chief Phil Eggman, 10 Utah survivors and a hundred of their friends and relatives held a special sunset memorial service yesterday where the Utah rests on the Pearl City side of Ford Island.
Fading voices: Honoring those
who died on Dec. 7, 1941
Click to enter the special section
For Eggman the Utah saga has been a personal mission that has drawn him close to the survivors and their families.
A concrete pier and a monument were dedicated in 1972 to mark the USS Utah Memorial, which has been overshadowed by the more publicized USS Arizona Memorial on the opposite end of Ford Island.
As the Navy white boat carrying the Utah contingent approached the memorial, it was greeted by a chorus of "Amazing Grace" played on the bagpipes by 1st Lt. Justin Stodghill as he stood on Ford Island's white concrete pier.
As Utah survivors and family members read off the names of those who died on the Utah on Dec. 7, Petty Officer 1st class James Anthony struck a brass bell twice each time in their honor.
As the sun slowly slipped beyond the horizon, survivors and family members tossed floral tributes into the still waters of the harbor.
Johnson, 80, said returning to visit the Utah "is always a moving experience."
"I lost two of my best buddies who didn't make it off the ship," said the Bruckenridge, Mo., resident. "It's still rough."
Pierce, 79, said he spent the past 60 years trying to forget that Sunday in December 1941 when Japanese fighters and bombers mistook the Utah for an aircraft carrier.
The Utah was commissioned as a battleship in 1911 but later recommissioned in 1932 as a target vessel. Its timber-reinforced decks may have given it the appearance of a carrier from the air.
"I was saddened," Pierce said after the one-hour ceremony. "It brought back a lot of sad memories."
Pierce had enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 to fly, but Navy regulations did not allow him to attend flight school at Pensacola, Fla., until he turned 18.
Following the attack on Dec. 7, Pierce spent the next few days on grave detail at Red Hill burying bodies until he received orders to report to flight school.
He is credited with downing 13 Japanese fighters -- earning the Navy Cross, the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts -- before he was shot down in January 1945. He spent six months in a prisoner of war camp on Luzon.
"The last time I was here was in 1945 when I spent three weeks recuperating in the Aiea hospital," Pierce added.
After the ceremony, Kreigh told friends, "I found tears in my eyes not because of sadness, but because of pride."