Ashes of Pearl Harbor survivors return to ships

Ashes of Pearl Harbor survivors return to ships

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HONOLULU • Lee Soucy decided six years ago that when he died he wanted to join his shipmates killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Soucy lived to be 90, passing away just last year. On Tuesday, seven decades after dozens of fellow sailors were killed when the Utah sank on Dec. 7, 1941, a Navy diver was to take a small urn containing his ashes and place it in a porthole of the ship.

The ceremony is 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.

"They want to return and be with the shipmates that they lost during the attack," said Jim Taylor, a retired sailor who coordinates the ceremonies.

The memorials are happening the same week the country observes the 70th anniversary of the aerial bombing that killed 2,390 Americans and brought the United States into World War II. A larger ceremony to remember all those who perished will be held today just before 8 a.m. Hawaii time — the moment the devastating attack began.

Most of the 12 ships that sank or were beached that day were removed from the harbor, their metal hulls salvaged for scrap. Just the Utah and the Arizona still lie in the dark blue waters. Only survivors of those vessels may return in death to their ships.

The cremated remains of Vernon Olsen, who served aboard the Arizona, will be interred on his ship during a sunset ceremony today. The ashes of three other survivors are being scattered in the harbor.

Back to the Utah

Soucy, the youngest of seven children, joined the Navy out of high school so he wouldn't burden his parents. In 1941, he was a pharmacist mate, trained to care for the sick and wounded.

He had just finished breakfast that Sunday morning when he saw planes dropping bombs on airplane hangars. He rushed to his battle station after feeling the Utah lurch, but soon heard the call to abandon ship as the vessel began sinking. He swam to shore, where he made a makeshift first aid center to help the wounded and dying. He worked straight through for two days.

The Utah lost nearly 60 men on Dec. 7, and about 50 are still entombed in the battleship. Today, the rusting hull of the Utah sits on its side next to Ford Island, not far from where it sank 70 years ago.

Soucy's daughter, Margaret, said her parents had initially planned to have their ashes interred together at their church in Plainview, Texas. But her father changed his mind after visiting Pearl Harbor for the 65th anniversary in 2006.

Soucy's three children, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren — 11 family members altogether — were to attend the sunset ceremony on Tuesday. His wife died this year.

BACK TO THE ARIZONA

An urn carrying the ashes of Olsen, who was among the 334 on the Arizona to survive the attack, will be interred in a gun turret on the Arizona today. Most of the battleship's 1,177 sailors and Marines who died on Dec. 7 are still entombed on the ship.

Five months after Pearl Harbor, Olsen was on the Lexington aircraft carrier when it sank during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

"I used to tell him he had nine lives. He was really lucky," said his widow, Jo Ann Olsen.

He died in April at the age of 91 after a bout of pneumonia.

Pearl Harbor interment and ash-scattering ceremonies began in the late 1980s and started growing in number as more survivors heard about them.

Taylor has helped 265 survivors return to Pearl Harbor. The vast majority have had their ashes scattered.

Arizona seeks battleship's gun barrel • Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett has his sights on a rusty gun barrel from the battleship Arizona. The barrel now sits in a Navy yard in Virginia. He has been leading an effort to bring the barrel, which wasn't on the ship the day it was sunk, and a barrel from the battleship Missouri to Phoenix for a World War II memorial.

The Missouri is the ship on which the Japanese signed the surrender. The thought came to him, he said, that the barrels could be displayed together to represent the beginning and end of the war.

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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