USS Utah Survivor Interred During Sunset Ceremony

Story Number: NNS141208-16Release Date: 12/8/2014 1:48:00 PM
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By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brian Wilbur, U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs

PEARL HARBOR (NNS) -- More than 200 friends, family and service members attended a sunset ceremony and interment, Dec. 6, at the USS Utah Memorial at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to celebrate those who bravely served on the Florida-class battleship.

The interment also honored the life of Seaman 2nd Class Cecil Calavan, a crew member who served aboard the USS Utah during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He died Aug. 14.

"I'm sure Cecil would not have wanted to be called a hero; he would say he was just doing his job, just doing what he was trained to do," said James Taylor, Navy Region Hawaii Pearl Harbor survivors liaison. "Every man and woman who served during that terrible war were, and still are, heroes."

Taylor explained that Calavan joined the Navy at the age of 17 and was a young seaman second class on the day that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Calavan and a friend were getting ready to leave the ship to go on liberty when he said he heard the scream of an airplane and an incredible explosion.

"He looked up and saw a plane go over the stern only about 20 feet above the ship," Taylor explained. "Then he saw the torpedo coming toward him, and an explosion knocked him off his feet. He saw another plane heading toward the ship and said nothing could be more terrifying than seeing a torpedo coming straight at you."

Another Sailor told Calavan that the ship was under attack by the Japanese and he should swim ashore to save himself. As the ship rolled over, Calavan and other shipmates slid down the bottom of the ship. They made it ashore, ending up in a ditch with other Sailors from the ship, Taylor said.

On that morning, two Japanese torpedoes slammed into the port side of the ship's hull, causing massive flooding. The ship sank shortly after. Of the 519 Sailors aboard during the attack, more than 50 perished and only four bodies were recovered. An attempt to salvage the wreckage was unsuccessful and the battleship was abandoned.

After the attack, Calavan was assigned to USS Detroit and then USS San Francisco, where he was injured during a battle. He received a Purple Heart in 1944 and served the remainder of his enlistment stateside.

He married Beverle Lewis in 1944. After leaving the Navy, Calavan worked in various positions, including a police officer in California and for the U.S. Ranger Service in Sierra National Forest. He also earned his pilot's license.

Calavan retired from Ampex Corporation after 32 years. He is survived by seven children, 11 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

"Cecil continued to love his ship and, as years passed, saw the Utah become part of the National Valor of the Pacific Monument when President Bush signed a bill into law," Taylor said. "He was the glue that held the USS Utah Survivors Association together during hard times and served as its president until he died Aug. 14 of this year."

Among the guests attending the ceremony were Calavan's daughter, Pamela Calavan Becerra, her niece Kelley, Calavan's great-granddaughter Kristen, and friend, Wyoma Vale.

"Our family has been here several times and now when we come back, not only are we going to be here honoring the USS Utah and her crew, we're going to be visiting my father," said Becerra. "I am very proud of everything this memorial represents," she said.

Taylor shared Calavan's wish.

"I know Cecil would have wanted to return here and rejoin his fellow shipmates who were lost that fateful day when the Japanese Fleet attacked Pearl Harbor," Taylor said. "In a few minutes, it will happen. Cecil will be with his shipmates who still remain inside the ship."

For more news from Commander, Navy Region Hawaii, visit

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