As the sun slowly lowered toward the horizon, service members, veterans, friends and family came together at the USS Utah Memorial Sunset Ceremony, held annually on historic Ford Island, to honor the loss of the USS Utah (BB-31/AG-16) and 58 of her crew still entombed aboard the sunken vessel.
The Florida-class battleship was the first ship torpedoed in the attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Struck by two torpedoes, the ship capsized and sank in just 12 minutes.
Retired Master Chief Yeoman Jim Taylor, Pearl Harbor Survivor Liaison, began his speech with a recounting of the story of John “Jack” Vaessen, who on watch below decks and at the ship’s switchboard when the attack began.
Utah capsized in minutes with Vaessen still trapped inside the hull. Waiting for hours inside an upside-down and pitch-black hull, he used a wrench to bang on the hull, signaling for a rescue that came hours later.
“We’re here today to recognize the ship behind me, and the people that were serving on it,” said Taylor. “I see a lot of covers that say Pearl Harbor Survivor and USS Utah, and it’s really nice to have everyone come out here and recognize this great ship and its Sailors.”
Taylor also made the announcement that the memorial, once closed to the public due to its location on an active military installation, would soon be accessible to the public.
National Park Services Superintendent Jacqueline Ashwell, along with the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors foundation, honored Taylor for his many years of service to Pearl Harbor and especially to the internments held at the memorial.
With the setting sun and a bugle rendition of “Taps,” the ceremony came to a close.
This year marks the 77th anniversary since the attacks on Pearl Harbor. The sunset ceremony is part of a series of commemoration events hosted by the U.S. military, National Park Services, and the State of Hawaii to honor the courage and sacrifice of those who served Dec. 7, 1941, and throughout the Pacific theater.