Utahns honor those who died at Pearl Harbor

Dec 7 2011 - 10:10pm

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(NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner) Pearl Harbor veterans honored in Salt Lake City.
(NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner) Pearl Harbor veterans honored in Salt Lake City.

OGDEN -- The first tiny hint of dawn peeked over the eastern mountains at Wednesday's Pearl Harbor remembrance at the Ogden River, barely penetrating the velvet black and utterly failing to warm the tiny scrim of spectators, who huddled in the 18-degree dark and shivered.

It was so cold that a valve on one of the musician's trumpets froze up, but the knot of veterans commemorating the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor's attack soldiered on.

They said a few words, offered a brief prayer and sent flowers floating down the river in memory of the dead.

Members of Ogden American Legion Baker-Merrill Post 9 do this at 7 a.m. every year. It's their way of making sure age and society's neglect of history don't wipe away an important memory.

"Someone asked me at work why we still care about Pearl Harbor," said David Wilson, vice commander and the post chaplain.

"We don't know our history. My dad was with (Gen. George S.) Patton in World War II. He was one of the guys who crossed the Rhine River.

"The bad thing is, schools don't even remember it anymore. If they knew more about it, they would know why. Pearl Harbor started World War II."

Schools used to note V-E (Victory in Europe) and V-J (Victory Over Japan) days, he said, "and we forgot all those. It's part of our history."

He is not alone in his concerns.

The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, a national group that has held reunions in Hawaii every year since World War II, announced Wednesday that this year's reunion would be its last.

It is disbanding.

"We had no choice," William H. Eckel, 89, who was once the director of the Fourth Division of the survivors association, told the New York Times.

"Wives and family members have been trying to keep it operating, but they just can't do it. People are winding up in nursing homes and intensive care places."

Post 9 Commander John Roods has no intention of letting that happen in Utah. His post feels a direct connection to Pearl Harbor.

The "Merrill" in the post's name is Ensign Howard Deal Merrill, a Utahn who was serving on the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941, when the ship was sunk at Pearl Harbor.

"He is still entombed there," Roods said. "This has been a tradition every year because, like I say, that young officer, we do it in his honor."

Merrill was one of 11 Utahns, all on the Arizona, who died at Pearl Harbor.

Utah has another, lesser-known connection to the battle. One of the ships sunk there was the USS Utah, a World War I-era battleship that was used for training. The Utah is still sunk in Pearl Harbor with 58 of her crew still aboard.

Wednesday's ceremony in Ogden was brief.

Jordan Schraedel, 16, and Mason Astle, 15, drove up from Davis High School to play their trumpets at the event.

As they tried to keep their trumpets warm enough to play, Roods handed out flowers for people to throw onto the river.

"We honor everyone who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor and all of the men buried at sea," he said.

Schraedel played the Naval Hymn, some of the words of which are: "O hear us when we cry to thee, for those in peril on the sea."

Wilson led a brief prayer for the dead, saying, "We ask thou be with their families and friends and know they are still honored and loved."

Finally, Russ Jones, a member of Bountiful American Legion Post 79, read a poem he wrote about Pearl Harbor that begins: "On that fateful day in the year of '41, call infamy or conspiracy, for U.S. the war begun."

Then, while Astle stood off in the distance and played "Taps," everyone stepped to the rail of the bridge, tossed their flowers and watched them slowly float away into the darkness.

Salt Lake City also hosted a ceremony and fired canons at the extact time the attack started in Hawaii 11:48 a.m. (MST).

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