News from Pearl Harbor
The First to Fall
Nearly 55 years after his death, Seaman Lawrence McCutcheon was honored by family, friends, and neighbors from his home town of Gridley, California. On Memorial Day weekend, they gathered at a local cemetery to unveil a monument to the man they believe was the first American to die in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
In an hour-long ceremony, local officials, a Navy honor guard, and members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association watched as McCutcheon’s sister and brother unveiled a 9-foot-tall black granite monument to McCutcheon, a 17-year old seaman stationed on board the battleship Maryland.
As the Japanese planes roared toward battleship row, McCutcheon, answering the call of “general quarters” ran to his battle station, a machine gun on the foremast of the Maryland, when he was struck in the heart by strafing machine gun fire from the attacking Japanese torpedo planes. He died instantly, within 30 seconds of the beginning of the attack.
Leon Smith, 72, of Gridley, a boyhood friend of McCutcheon, was on board the cruiser USS Honolulu during the attack. Afterward, he went in search of his friend and found he had been killed. Years later, Smith began to research McCutcheon’s death. At the National archives, he reviewed the after action reports and deck logs, concluding that McCutcheon died shortly after 0752. Smith concluded that his friend had probably been the first fatality of the Pearl Harbor attack.
The construction of the monument, located approximately 200 feet from McCutcheon’s grave, was inspired in part by a local high school’s mock trial that convicted Harry Truman of being a war criminal for dropping the atomic bomb. Upon hearing of the school’s activity, local residents and veteran’s groups banded together to raise the more than $15,000 needed to build the memorial.
USS Arizona Memorial Inspires Poetry
Like many of the almost 2 million yearly visitors to Pearl Harbor’s USS Arizona memorial, Patrick Coonen found the experience very moving. In Coonen’s case, it inspired him to poetry. Coonen made his first visit to Hawaii and the memorial in February. When he stepped aboard the monument and peered down into the oil-stained waters, he saw the outline of the once great ship and found himself awed by the thought of the sailors who lay entombed below. “I wanted to put something on that ship,” he said, “it so moved me.”
While staring at the water, the words of his poem began to form in his mind. “I wrote the end of the poem first,” he recalled. “I began dictating to my mother, and by the time we left the ship, I had most of it written.” He finished the poem after he returned to his motel room.
With the encouragement of family and friends, he sent the poem to the National Park Service, which operates the USS Arizona memorial. Shortly after submitting the poem, he was notified that it was selected to be displayed with other poems in September.
“I was a little surprised” he said. But this is not the first time his poetry has been recognized. Coonen, 52, who lives in the California Sierra foothills town of Auburn, has had other poems published and has a self-published book of his poems. I just wanted to say something and to make people think,” said Coonen.
Night drops anchor on another day.
A new cast prepares for the same play.
Eleven hundred souls forged in a watery grave.
Cleansed daily by the tears of visitors.
—Patrick Coonen Rich Pedroncelli
The Missouri Completes “Battleship Bookends”
Admiral R. J. Zlatoper, Commander- in-Chief U.S. Pacific Fleet, made the following statement on the selection of Hawaii as the site for the USS Missouri:
This is great news for Hawaii, and my only regret is that there aren’t three more Missouri’s to provide the other competing Pacific ports. The Secretary of the Navy’s decision recognizes that Mr. Roy Yee and the USS Missouri Memorial Association have done an outstanding job of planning a new home for this historic battleship. I know the Secretary’s selection was difficult, because each of the cities under consideration has strong ties to the Navy.
The choice of Pearl Harbor as Missouri’s final homeport is particularly appropriate as she will create historic ‘battleship bookends’ which will represent the beginning and ending of the war in the Pacific. Missouri symbolizes not only the end of a tragic war but also our commitment to maintaining peace and stability in the region. Hawaii’s honor in being selected as caretaker for this national treasure will allow the United States to share the memorial with the many international visitors who come to the islands each year.
It’s a Seafaring Celebration
Mark your calendars for the Navy Museum’s eighth annual Seafaring Celebration on 2 November. The celebration of maritime traditions with workshops, demonstrations, story telling, and musical performances runs from 1100 to 1600 at the Navy Museum and is free and open to the public. The public also is invited to the museum for illustrated lectures on 14 November and 20 November, and a concert by the U.S. Navy Band Harp-Flute Duo on 4 December. These events all begin at 1900 and are free, but reservations are recommended. For more information about Museum events, call 202-433-4882. The Navy Museum is open Monday through Friday from 0900 to 1600 and on weekends and holidays from 1000 to 1700.
A Korean War exhibit on display at the Navy Art Gallery through December includes watercolors and pencil drawings of Navy and Marine Corps operations from Inchon to the prisoner exchange. The gallery is open from 1000 to 1600 Wednesday through Sunday. For more information call 202-433-3815.
The Naval Historical Foundation is maintaining an up-to-date file of the Early Bird, a collection of daily news clips put out by the Pentagon. This daily publication includes important military and defense news articles from a variety of newspapers, such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Stars and Stripes, and Philadelphia Inquirer, among others. The Foundation’s collection of the Early Bird is available to researchers; contact Mr. Jim Lee at 202-433-3332.
Wendy Karpi, Naval Historical Center
Sanctuary for the Sanctuary
The USS Sanctuary (AH-17), the old World War II and Vietnam War hospital ship, has received a hefty corporate pledge that will save her from becoming razor blades—and return her to humanitarian service. Tied up for several years at the Fairfield yard next to the carrier Coral Sea in south Baltimore, the Sanctuary appeared to be destined for the scrappers. The rescuers, a group called Life International, will rehabilitate the hospital ship as a center for the re-education and behavioral change of women with addictions. Begun as a merchant cargo vessel in 1944, the Sanctuary was converted to a hospital ship before its commissioning three months prior the end of World War II. It performed valiant services in the aftermath of that war; however, it is probably best remembered for having treated 25,000 casualties while anchored off the coast of Vietnam between 1967 and 1971.
Tin Can Sailors, Inc. has scheduled one of its famous work weekends, or field days, on board the USS Kidd (DD-661) at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, from 18 to 20 October 1996. Volunteers will sleep and eat on board the spectacular Fletcher-class destroyer and work at restoring the aft fire and engine rooms, painting interior decks, and restoring gun mounts. Tin Can Sailors have coordinated and managed similar field days with great successes for the destroyers Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. (DD-850) at Fall River, Massachusetts, and Edson (DD-946) in New York. Keeping historic ships in fighting trim for the tourist trade is as critical for the image of the Navy today as was maintaining the ship for a flag visit in its active duty days.
The USS Constitution Museum, near the Navy’s most historic ship in the old Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston, opened a new wing last July. Featuring a new exhibition titled “Old Ironsides in War and Peace,” the Museum begins its celebration of the 200th anniversary of the ship launched on 21 October 1797 and still in commission.
It appears that a solution has been found to save the last-built, fully sail- powered U.S. Navy ship, Constellation, and to enable her tall masts to grace Baltimore’s Inner Harbor once again. The Baltimore Maritime Museum is threatened by closure, and its main attractions—the submarine Torsk (SS-423), the Coast Guard cutter Taney (WPG-37), and the lightship Chesapeake (LV-116)—could pull up their gangways this fall. The museum originally was managed and operated by Baltimore’s parks and recreations department, but the local government (with promises to continue to provide support) forced the museum to privatize a few years ago. Income from gate receipts cover day-to- day visitor operations, but without additional revenue sources, the museum will be unable to maintain its ships.
It may be too late to save the carrier Forrestal (CV-59) from the wrecking hammers, but the USS Forrestal Heritage Museum Task Force is ready to preserve the history of this giant warrior. Write P.O. Box 83, Bensalem, Pennsylvania 19020, for details on how you can help.
James W. Cheevers, Historic Naval Ships Association
Independence Seaport Museum Begins Olympia Restoration
The Independence Seaport Museum (see “Museum Report," pp. 51-52, this issue) is moving ahead with the process of restoring the USS Olympia. “Since the museum acquired the USS Olympia in January 1996, we have undertaken many steps to secure her safety,” said Assistant Director Paul DeOrsay. “Her most immediate threat was fire, so ... we have removed tons of combustibles that accumulated in her storage areas. We have also rewired her and taken steps to safeguard her furnishings and historical documents.”
In addition, the Independence Seaport Museum has received grants from both the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum Services to document critical areas for preservation, including the hull and deck, equipment room, and artifacts in the collection. Other improvements on board the Olympia include the installation of emergency lighting, fire doors, and alarms and additional life-ring stations.
The Olympia played a pivotal role in many crucial world events, but is perhaps best remembered for her role in the Battle of Manila Bay. Her active career came to a close in 1921 after she sailed to France and delivered the body of the Unknown Soldier to its final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery (see T. Wyman, “Known But to God,” pp. 45-48, this issue). The Olympia is the only vessel remaining from the Spanish-American War fleets and the nation’s “New Navy” of the 1880s and 1890s. For more information on the USS Olympia Restoration Project write: Independence Seaport Museum, 211 S. Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106.
Cathy Engel, Independence Seaport Museum
Saving Old Ironsides One Penny at a Time
In the 1920s, schoolchildren across America rallied to save the flagship of the U.S. Navy, the USS Constitution, by mailing in their pennies to raise funds for her restoration. Thanks to these efforts, the Constitution, berthed in Boston Harbor, is the oldest commissioned warship afloat and is preparing for her bicentennial celebration in 1997.
Today, a new nationwide Pennies Campaign is raising money in hopes that she can sail again for the first time in more than 100 years. The goal is to have enough sails rigged by her bicentennial in 1997 so that she can operate under her own power. As a prelude to the bicentennial, Commander Michael Beck is leading his crew on an ambitious task: to use the battles and history of the Constitution to educate the United States about the values of citizenship and ethical behavior. This summer, several groups of students, teachers, and citizens from all 50 states boarded the flagship for a series of 10 Turnaround Cruises in Boston Harbor. Along with the Constitution museum, Commander Beck led the development of an educational curriculum to be distributed in schools next year. He also pioneered a World Wide Web site (www.tiac.net/users/pennies) targeted to 10- to 13-year-old children. To help with the restoration, contact the Old Ironsides Pennies Campaign, Building 125, Charlestown Navy Yard, Charlestown, Massachusetts 02129, call 617-241-2995, or fax 617-241-2998.