Pearl Harbor Reunion of a Different Sort

Story Number: NNS021218-23Release Date: 12/18/2002 1:09:00 PM
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By Senior Chief Journalist Phil Eggman, COMSUBPAC Public Affairs

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (NNS) -- You could call it a family reunion, and it happens every year. Like clockwork, Mary Kreigh comes to Hawaii to visit her twin sister, Nancy.

However, this is not a typical reunion, because Nancy doesn't really live here.

According to Mary, her father, Chief Yeoman Albert T. D. Wagner, had a plan for the final resting place of his daughter, Nancy, who died prematurely in the Philippines. Wagner had his daughter cremated and wanted to spread her ashes at sea.

In fact, he was storing her urn in his locker aboard his ship, USS Utah (AG 16). All he needed was a chaplain, and he could commit his baby to the sea.

That was the plan, but Japanese warplanes changed all that on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

Utah had just pulled into Pearl Harbor for the weekend of Dec. 6-7 and moored at berth Fox 11 on the west side of Ford Island. It had just finished its duties as a target ship for the fleet.

One of the first ships hit during the surprise attack by Japanese naval forces, Utah took two torpedoes in her port side. Within 12 minutes, the ship capsized, taking the lives of six officers and 51 Sailors, most trapped aboard the vessel. The others were killed from Japanese strafing attacks while they were swimming for shore.

In all, 58 Utah Sailors died that day. Fortunately, Wagner survived that day, but his daughter's ashes went down with the ship.

"After the Navy tried to salvage the ship, my dad tried in vain to recover my sister's ashes," said Mary. "I never really knew my sister. She died when she was only two days old."

But that doesn't matter to the Wagner family. Mary still visits the Utah Memorial on Ford Island every year from her home in Lompoc, Calif., to remember.

This year, she had company. Dolores Higdon and her husband, Ray, came to the Utah Memorial to remember Dolores' 21-year-old brother, Electrician's Mate 1st Class Rudolph Martinez. Martinez died that morning 61 years ago. Joining them was Utah survivor Gean Seltzer and Pearl Harbor Medal of Honor recipient John Finn.

The small group laid wreaths at sunset Dec. 6 in memory of those who died and then threw flowers from 58 leis into the water between the memorial and the rusting ship before observing evening colors.

"I am so happy to be here," said Dolores, referring to their impromptu gathering. "Last year, we had an incredible ceremony from boats to mark the 60th anniversary of the attack. But this was no less moving. There is a certain calm here, especially at sunset. It was meaningful."

Mary agreed.

"I feel nothing but pride and pleasure that my sister is in such magnificent company," she said. "I love coming here to remember her and to honor them all. I could not ask for anything better than for her to be tenderly, carefully looked after by America's finest."

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Sailors assigned to the Ceremonial Guard for Navy Region Hawaii salute as the National Ensign is presented during an internment servicethe son of a Navy
Official U.S. Navy file photo.
September 4, 2002
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