2008 USS Arizona Reunion

Gallery Article by Andrew Desautels on Oct 15 2009

 

2008 USS Arizona Survivors' Reunion At Pearl Harbor

It was the first week of December 2008 and some of the last living survivors from the battleship USS Arizona gathered at Pearl Harbor to remember, and to honor fallen shipmates.  For those of us blessed enough to accompany them on their pilgrimage, it was a time to honor them, as well as the fallen.  On this occassion I was lucky enough to have my 10-year old daughter with me as well, who has known some of these legendary men most of her life. 
 
The above photo shows the attending survivors and shipmate posed in front of the mural at the USS Arizona visitor's center.  They are, from the left on the back row, Milton Hurst, Lauren Bruner, Lou Conter, Joe Langdell; front row Ed Wenzlaff, Glenn Lane, and Tom Traylor.

(see photos 03-06)

During the week of the reunion, there was, as always, plenty of casual time together with the survivors and their families.  At left is my daughter with survivor Milton Hurst; when the Arizona's magazines exploded, he was standing on the quarterdeck near Turret 3 fighting fires.  Next is a photo of survivors Lane, Wenzlaff and his daughter, and shipmate Traylor at the annual banquet.  During the banquet, our guest speaker was Tom Kimmel, grandson of Admiral Husband Kimmel, who was the commander of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor during the attack.  Mr. Kimmel has spent many years trying to clear his grandfather's officially disgraced name. 
 
Finally at right, my daughter quickly learned that the incredible pineapple in Hawaii is one of the tastiest treats around, nothing like what we get on the mainland.

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This year, December 7th fell on a Sunday, just as it did that infamous day of 1941.  On this day we gathered at the USS Arizona Memorial not only to remember and to honor, but also to inter the ashes of a survivor who had passed away.  While the tourists were vacating the memorial, we had time on the shore to look, and to ponder.  Shortly after the above photo of my daughter with survivor Glenn Lane was taken, I asked him if it ever got any easier coming back to this place.  "No." he answered with a quick shake of the head.  "It never gets any easier."  Lane was actually blown off the ship in the magazine explosion, and swam to the battleship Nevada, which also went down. 
 
Aboard the boat which took the survivors and us to the memorial built over the wreck of the Arizona, I was deeply honored when I was allowed to serenade all with "The Navy Hymn" and "Amazing Grace" on the flute.  Once we docked at the memorial, the survivors were allowed to disembark first along with an attending family member. 
 
(see photos  11-14)
 
Today we interred the ashes of survivor Charles Guerin into the wreck of the Arizona, to rejoin his shipmates.  I found it even more special that Mr. Guerin's battle station was in turret 4, and by remarkable chance it is in the location of turret 4 that survivors ashes are interred!  This was the second interment I have been privileged to witness, and I can tell you it is one of the most profound and moving ceremonies imaginable.  The ceremony itself is fairly simple; after two short eulogies, including one by his son, the ashes are presented to a team of National Park Service divers who then carry them with stunning reverence to their final resting place in the wreck of the battleship. 
 
The second photo above is incredible to me; I feel a bit guilty for taking it, but it was such an incredible moment.  After the divers submerge, and after the 21-gun salute, "Taps" is played by two trumpeters.  The man near the camera, in front of the trumpet, is survivor Lauren Bruner.  He is one of the only survivors from the front section of the ship, high up in the foremast.  He and three others were very badly burned as they climbed hand-over-hand across a line thrown to them by the ship moored next to them as their ship sank and burned.  What this man must be "seeing" at this moment must be incredible, and crushing.
 
All in all, it was an incredible experience, and even some members of the Navy honor guard was struggling to maintain their composure.
 
(see photos  15-18)
 
One of the special guests at the ceremony was the now-famous "Other Twin" of the USS Utah.  This woman's father was an officer aboard the Utah, which still lies partially submerged on the other side of Ford Island.  It was not long before the attack that one of his two newborn twin daughters was stillborn, and she was cremated and he had her ashes with him aboard the Utah at the time of the attack.  The baby's remains are still in the ship, but her twin still lives today. 
 
After dropping flowers to honor the eternally-serving crew of the Arizona, we paid our respects to the wall with the names of the 1,177 of her crew who perished.  In the last photo, survivor Milton Hurst happily and energetically hugged my daughter; in fact, he surprised me by seeming quite radiant.  I did ask him why, and I wish I could remember his exact wording, but it was to the effect of, to him this place was a reminder of the joyous gift of life, and how very precious it is. 
 
As of this writing, it has now been a decade since I was blessed to become a part of these legendary men's organization.  Getting to know them over this time has profoundly touched and affected me forever, and I am eternally thankful for every moment I have spent with them. 

Andrew Desautels

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Photos and text by Andrew Desautels