Editorial: Don't forget the Utah
(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly identified the battleship Arizona.)
On Dec. 7, 1941, in the infamous sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese naval aircraft sunk the battleship USS Arizona, killing 1,177 of its crew while they were preparing for a quiet Sunday morning.
The mostly submerged wreck, sheltered by a graceful and distinctive white canopy, is a National Memorial. It may be one of the best known sights in Hawaii.
On the other side of Ford’s Island, almost directly across from the Arizona, is another National Memorial, if not exactly forgotten, certainly largely overlooked. The battleship USS Utah was sunk by torpedo, and despite a couple of unsuccessful attempts to move it, the rusty orange remains of the Utah rest where it rolled over on its side at 8:01 that Sunday morning.
The USS Utah society complains the Memorial “is not mentioned in tourist brochures.” And, indeed, the small memorial on the shore and that part of Pearl Harbor is off limits to visitors without special permission. The isolation and the quiet — no tour buses, no crowds — somehow make it more poignant than the Oklahoma, even though the periodic oil bubbles create the odd sensation some part of the ship is still alive.
The 521-foot Utah was commissioned in 1911. In a curious and now largely forgotten engagement, in 1914 a hastily thrown together detachment led by Utah’s Marines landed in Vera Cruz to prevent a large shipment of German-supplied weapons from reaching the Mexican military. The significance of this only became apparent later when it turned out the German government was trying to prod Mexico into attacking the United States. From that engagement, Utah’s detachment was awarded seven Medals of Honor.
The Utah spent World War I covering convoys from a base in Ireland and postwar had brief stints as a flagship in Europe and South America. With the signing of a naval disarmament treaty in 1922, the Utah was downgraded from battleship to auxiliary ship, training gunnery crews and serving as a target for other ships and naval aircraft.
It was in its capacity as a target ship that the Utah arrived in Hawaii in early September 1941. Some think that the heavy wooden planking intended to protect the Utah from the practice bombs might have misled the Japanese into thinking it was a carrier.
The Utah, too, had its tales of heroism. Electricians and engine room crew who remained at their posts to give their shipmates a change to escape. The senior officer aboard, Lt. Cmdr. Solomon Isquith, went through the ship trying to ensure that his crew escaped, was himself trapped and had to be pulled out through a porthole. Even as the Japanese were strafing the wrecked ships, the crew climbed onto the wreck and cut a hole in the hull, freeing six trapped sailors. The Utah carried a crew of 371. Fifty-four of them died that day.
In remembering Pearl Harbor, we should not forget the Utah. Indeed, we salute you.
— Scripps Howard News Service