Re­mem­ber­ing The West Loch Dis­as­ter

MidWeek Islander (West Oahu) - - West Oahu Islander -

and small-arms am­mu­ni­tion, 200,000 gal­lons of diesel fuel, drums of lu­bri­cat­ing oil, flares, sig­nal rock­ets and fog oil smoke pots. The chain re­ac­tion of ex­plo­sions that fol­lowed left six sunken LSTs and sev­eral more se­verely dam­aged. The re­sult­ing fires lasted 24 hours.

In all, at least 163 men were killed and 396 wounded.

To­day, 44 sets of uniden­ti­fied re­mains from the dis­as­ter lie in 36 graves at Punch­bowl ceme­tery. The grave mark­ers once read sim­ply “Un­known,” but that was changed a few years ago at the be­hest of Congress to “Un­known, West Loch Dis­as­ter, May 21, 1944.”

At the time, the Navy did not want the world to know that we had been badly dam­aged by this ac­ci­dent. There­fore, the West Loch Dis­as­ter was pre­vi­ously clas­si­fied as a top-se­cret Amer­i­can World War II mar­itime ac­ci­dent. This ex­plains why the in­ci­dent is not as well­known as the at­tack on Pearl Har­bor.

The wreck­age quickly was cleared and dumped at sea three miles south of Hawaii, leav­ing only the rusted hull of the par­tially beached wreck of LST480 in the loch as present-day ev­i­dence of the dis­as­ter. The con­tin­u­ing ef­fort to win WWII, the top-se­cret clas­si­fi­ca­tion of the dis­as­ter, the ex­pe­di­tious re­cov­ery ef­forts, com­bined with the even­tual suc­cess­ful ex­e­cu­tion of Oper­a­tion For­ager, served to ame­lio­rate of­fi­cial in­ter­est in the dis­as­ter.

The Navy con­ducted an ex­haus­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the ex­act cause of the ex­plo­sion, but it was never de­ter­mined. It is be­lieved, how­ever, that a mor­tar round ex­ploded dur­ing an un­load­ing oper­a­tion, set­ting off the chain re­ac­tion. The round ei­ther ex­ploded be­cause it was dropped dur­ing han­dling or ig­nited by a gaso­line ex­plo­sion.

As we honor the courage of our brave men and women, let us pause to re­mem­ber that Sun­day af­ter­noon when, sud­denly, a deaf­en­ing ex­plo­sion killed or wounded hun­dreds of men right here in West Loch. We must en­sure that their mem­ory, honor and no­ble sac­ri­fices are not for­got­ten.

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