Navy vet’s ashes des­tined for sunken Pearl Har­bor bat­tle­ship

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Au­drey Mcavoy

PEARL HAR­BOR, HAWAII >> On Dec. 7, 1941, then-21year-old Lauren Bruner was the sec­ond-to-last man to es­cape the burn­ing wreck­age of the USS Ari­zona af­ter a Ja­panese plane dropped a bomb that ig­nited an enor­mous ex­plo­sion in the bat­tle­ship’s am­mu­ni­tion stor­age com­part­ment.

He lived to be 98 years old, mar­ry­ing twice and out­liv­ing both wives. He worked for a re­frig­er­a­tion com­pany for nearly four decades.

This week­end, divers will place Bruner’s ashes in­side the bat­tle­ship’s wreck­age, which sits in Pearl Har­bor where it sank dur­ing the at­tack 78 years ago that thrust the United States into World War II. The South­ern Cal­i­for­nia man will be the 44th and last crew mem­ber to be in­terred in ac­cor­dance with this rare Navy rit­ual. The last three liv­ing Ari­zona sur­vivors plan to be laid to rest with their fam­i­lies.

The somber cer­e­mony and other events mark­ing the at­tack an­niver­sary come on the heels of a deadly shoot­ing at the Pearl Har­bor Naval Ship­yard on Wed­nes­day, when a Navy sailor shot and killed two peo­ple and wounded a third be­fore tak­ing his life. In another deadly at­tack at a Navy base Fri­day, a shooter opened fire in a class­room build­ing at Naval Air Sta­tion Pensacola in Florida.

A spokesman said Pearl Har­bor an­niver­sary events will pro­ceed as sched­uled.

Bruner said he wanted to re­turn to his ship be­cause few peo­ple go to ceme­ter­ies, while more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple visit the Ari­zona each year. He also saw it as a way to join old friends who never made it off the war­ship.

“I thought, well, all my bud­dies are right here. And there are a lot of peo­ple who come to see the ship,” Bruner told The As­so­ci­ated Press in an in­ter­view in 2016, three years be­fore he died in his sleep in Septem­ber. Bruner trav­eled from his La Mi­rada, Cal­i­for­nia, home to at­tend Pearl Har­bor an­niver­sary events many times.

The Navy be­gan in­ter­ring Pearl Har­bor sur­vivors on their old ships in 1982. The wrecks of only two ves­sels re­main in the har­bor — the Ari­zona and USS Utah — so sur­vivors of those ships are the only ones who have the op­tion to be laid to rest this way. Most of the ships hit that day were re­paired and put back into ser­vice or scrapped.

Nei­ther un­der­wa­ter ar­chae­ol­o­gists at the Navy History and Her­itage Com­mand or those who han­dle buri­als for the Navy Per­son­nel Com­mand were aware of any in­ter­ments con­ducted on sunken Navy ves­sels else­where.

Of the 1,177 USS Ari­zona sailors and Marines killed at Pearl Har­bor, more than 900 could not be re­cov­ered and re­main en­tombed on the ship, which sank in nine min­utes. A me­mo­rial built in 1962 sits above the wreck­age.

Sixty died on the Utah, and three have been in­terred there. At least one of the three liv­ing Utah sur­vivors wants his ashes placed on his old ship.

Bruner’s ashes will be placed aboard the Ari­zona fol­low­ing a sun­set cer­e­mony Satur­day, the an­niver­sary of the Ja­panese at­tack.

Loved ones will stand on the USS Ari­zona Me­mo­rial’s dock and hand an urn to scuba divers in the wa­ter. The divers will guide the con­tainer to the bar­na­cled wreck­age and care­fully place it in­side.

Ser­vice­men will then per­form a gun sa­lute and present an Amer­i­can flag to next of kin.

Daniel Martinez, chief his­to­rian for the Pearl Har­bor Na­tional Me­mo­rial, said the Ari­zona cer­e­mony hon­ors those who sur­vived the bomb­ing while also of­fer­ing a re­minder of the many lives cut short be­cause of it. Much of it is held fronting a white mar­ble wall en­graved with the names of the Ari­zona sailors and Marines who died in the at­tack.

“It’s a cel­e­bra­tion of a life well lived,” Martinez said.

Joseph Langdell’s ashes were in­terred on the Ari­zona in 2015. One of his two sons, Ted Langdell, said his fa­ther asked to be placed there out of re­gard for those who didn’t make it out, as well as for those who sur­vived and worked hard to keep the mem­ory of the Ari­zona alive.

“It’s emo­tional. It’s rev­er­ent. And it makes me think not just of him but of the other peo­ple. It’s hard to imag­ine that all of the sud­den, all of these peo­ple are gone,” Ted Langdell said.

Satur­day’s pub­lic Pearl Har­bor cer­e­mony, an an­nual event hosted by the Navy and Na­tional Park Ser­vice, will ob­serve a mo­ment of si­lence at 7:55 a.m., the ex­act time the at­tack be­gan. In all, more than 2,300 Amer­i­cans died.

Bruner didn’t know who was at­tack­ing un­til the planes got close enough for him to see the red Ris­ing Sun in­signia on their sides. The air­craft shot at “ev­ery­thing in sight,” he said. Then an ex­plo­sion tore through his bat­tle sta­tion.

He tried to get off the ship as fast as he could, but he couldn’t jump be­cause the oil leak­ing into the wa­ter be­low was on fire.

Bruner and sev­eral fel­low ship­mates shouted to a sailor on the ship moored next to the Ari­zona to toss over some rope. The six of them used the rope to carry them­selves hand-over-hand to the USS Vestal 100 feet (30 me­ters) away.

“You’re like a chicken get­ting bar­be­cued,” he said. All of them made it, be­com­ing six of the 335 sailors and Marines on the Ari­zona to sur­vive. Bruner spent months re­cov­er­ing from burns.

He later spoke to school groups and oth­ers about his ordeal. His friend Ed Hoeschen, who of­ten ac­com­pa­nied him on these vis­its, said Bruner never did it for the fame and glory.

“It wasn’t about him,” Hoeschen said. “It was about (peo­ple) meet­ing a mem­ber of the USS Ari­zona. And that’s what he wanted peo­ple to re­mem­ber. Just re­mem­ber the men of the Ari­zona.”

REED SAXON — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

At his home in La Mi­rada, Cal­i­for­nia, Lauren Bruner, a sur­vivor of the USS Ari­zona, which was at­tacked on Dec. 7, 1941, holds a 1940 photo of him­self. Divers will place the ashes of Bruner in the wreck­age of his ship dur­ing a cer­e­mony this week­end in Pearl Har­bor, Hawaii. Bruner died ear­lier in 2019 at the age of 98.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

On Dec. 7, 1941, smoke rises from the bat­tle­ship USS Ari­zona as it sinks dur­ing the Ja­panese at­tack on Pearl Har­bor, Hawaii. Divers will place the ashes of Lauren Bruner, a sur­vivor from the USS Ari­zona in Pearl Har­bor, in the wreck­age of his ship dur­ing a cer­e­mony this week­end. Bruner died ear­lier in 2019 at the age of 98.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.