Friday, December 10, 2010

Forgotten Ship And Unknown Crewmember.............

In memory of Dallas "Shackman" Pendergraph

I am starting to climb out of my funk and the writing muse is beginning to assert it's self once more.

A big part of my love of history is the fact that I like to explore historical incidents beyond the big picture that every one knows. History is like a stream in the woods, it takes it's own course and sometimes the eddies and pools that are formed are much more interesting that the bare bones facts that most people know. At least to me

This week was the 69th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I am sure that most are aware of the basic fact of the attack, the loss of the battleship U.S.S. Arizona which still rest on the bottom of the harbor and is the tomb for a large number of her crew.

Not so well known is that there is another ship also still on the bottom of the harbor. The former battleship U.S.S. Utah. The Utah (BB-31) had a very eventful career before December 7th. Commissioned on August 31st 1911, she served at Vera Cruz, Mexico at the time of the American intervention in 1914 and then served in the Atlantic fleet during the First World War. Other than sending Blue Jackets and Marines ashore in Vera Cruz (In the fighting, the landing parties earned 7 Medals of Honor) the Utah did not see any combat.

Due to a naval treaty in 1922 (which the Japanese were also a party to) the Utah was decommissioned as a battleship and reconfigured as a target ship and anti-aircraft training platform. This required a major overhaul as well as being renumbered (AG-16) in 1931

The Utah continued to serve as a training ship allowing Naval Aviators to practice bombing techniques in real time. Her deck was covered with wood to help cushion the impact of practice bombs and may have been a important factor in what happened on December 7th.

The Japanese knew that the Utah was a target ship and had given orders not to attack her. However, with the wood on her decks, she may have confused the younger and less experienced Japanese pilots into thinking she was a aircraft carrier. She took two torpedoes and capsized so quickly that she still had men below decks when she went down. While some of the crew were rescued when they were cut out of the ship after the attack was over, some crew members still remain on her. 6 Officers and 52 men lost their lives in the sinking.

There is also another set of remains on board that few people know about. The remains of a baby girl.

Chief Yeoman Albert T.D. Wagner had been stationed in the Philippines with his wife where they had twin girls. One of the twins, Nancy Lynne died soon after she was born. Yeoman Wager had the remains cremated and was going to have them interred at sea when the ship's chaplain and duty allowed. The baby's ashes was in Yeoman Wagner's locker at the time of the attack and due to damage to the ship in that area the child's remains were not recoverable by navy divers.

Yeoman Wager told several people that he couldn't think of a better place for his daughter's remains to be, being watched over by the sprits of 58 of his old shipmates. The Utah is still visited by baby Nancy's sister Mary.

1 comment:

CTone said...

Excellent post! I like your history posts; they intrigue me, and the stories need to be told.