Sunset Tribute Honors Sailors Lost Aboard USS Utah
PEARL HARBOR - Pearl Harbor survivors, World War II veterans and guests gathered at the USS Utah Memorial for a sunset tribute on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Dec. 6.
The event, hosted by Pearl Harbor Liaison retired Master Chief Yeoman James Taylor commemorated the 74th anniversary of those who bravely served on the Florida-class battleship and honored the 58 crew members still entombed aboard the sunken vessel.
Among those in attendance was Pearl Harbor survivor, retired Chief Petty Officer Gil Meyer, one of the crew members serving aboard USS Utah on the fateful morning of Dec. 7, 1941. Taylor recounted Meyer’s story of that day.
“After the ship was hit by torpedoes, rolled over and sank, Gil Meyer slid off the bottom of the ship and swam ashore, dodging bullets from strafing aircrafts,” said Taylor. “Soon after the attack he was assigned to the light-cruiser USS Detroit and remained on the ship throughout the war. Gil says it was a hair-raising experience to be on board one of the first ships to enter Tokyo Bay.”
Also present was special guest Mary Wagner Kreigh. Mary and her twin sister Nancy Lynne were born prematurely Aug. 29, 1937 to Chief Yeoman Albert T.D. Wagner, also assigned to the USS Utah. Nancy lived only two days and on the morning of Dec. 7, Wagner had her ashes in his locker while waiting for a chaplain to come aboard and perform the traditional Navy burial at sea; But the surprise attack on Pearly Harbor Dec. 7, changed everything as baby Nancy went down with the ship, along with over 50 crew members.
“The Utah lies on her side like a rusted metal giant guarding her cherished treasures entombed within her bowels like a mother guarding her children. She is at peace, as are her charges. Their bed is an azure carpet, their blanket is a gentle breeze, their lullaby is the whispering wind. The scene is breathtaking. It is beautiful, wondrous and serene. Thank you my brave warriors for taking such good care of my twin sister. It is my wish to join her when my time comes. We started life together and we should spend eternity together,” wrote Mary in an emotional poem about USS Utah and her sister.
After the tribute, the guests stood in reverence for the sounding of taps, followed by the presentation of the wreaths to the Pearl Harbor survivors and special guests.
Rainey McKenna, an officer for The National Park Service, said she felt the event was intimate and moving, and felt honored to be have been able to have a conversation with one of the Pearl Harbor survivors, Delton “Wally” Walling.
“He is a wonderful human, very warm, very inviting, and I was able to hear some of his stories about his time and where he was when this happened,” said McKenna.
“They gave me insight into an experience that I don’t have a lot of familiarity with and many of these stories are new to me, so it was a chance to really hear what the day was like and what it meant to him. It was a wonderful thing to be here with our [Pearl Harbor] survivors, to share this moment at the USS Utah.”
McKenna also mentioned the tribute would be one of the events shared on Dec. 7, 2015, on a live stream program.
“We are on an island and there is only so many who can join us here on this special day, but there is so much interest and we’ve had people inquiring about this and planning on joining the live feed from all over the world,” said McKenna. “This is something that touched many people. It was part of a greater story and there’s this interest that still persists in what happened here that day, and I think its something that we can share with thousands if not millions of people.”