(Via Ho’okele News)
Story and photos by MC2 Tiarra Fulgham
Navy Public Affairs Support Element West, Detachment Hawaii
The ashes of Pearl Harbor survivor Quartermaster 2nd Class Theodore Franklin Roosevelt were interred at the USS Utah Memorial on Ford Island, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam during a ceremony held in his honor March 20.
Roosevelt, a distant relative of former U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, was born April 24, 1924 in West Allis, Wisc. and joined the Navy shortly after his 17th birthday.
After graduating from boot camp, he was briefly assigned in Long Beach and later requested to be transferred to the battleship USS Utah (BB 31).
On the morning of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt was three decks below the main deck of USS Utah when the call was given for Sailors to man their “bombing” stations.
“These areas were to protect the crew from falling bombs; however, this time bombs were not the problem,” said Pearl Harbor survivor liaison Jim Taylor. “The ship took two torpedoes, and everyone had to change their locations and get to the main decks.”
Following the strikes to the Utah, the ship began to take on water and could not maintain watertight integrity due to open compartment hatches.
Taylor recalled the story of this infamous day and spoke about how Roosevelt never forgot the scene he witnessed, watching Sailors drown because they could not escape their spaces.
“When Roosevelt got to the main deck, he faced machine gun bullets flying all over the place. He took cover under gun turrets and, at the same time, the ship was rolling over,” said Taylor. “He still didn’t know what was going on. He only thought it was weird and that someone had really screwed up a training evolution.”
Capt. Lawrence A. Scruggs, Navy deputy commander at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, spoke about the importance of the Utah and its crew in the Pacific Fleet during its years in service.
“Utah and her crew played an important role in developing the Navy’s cutting edge technology, breeding innovation and delivering combat ready ships, planes and crews,” said Scruggs. “She was the ship that trained thousands of Pacific Fleet Sailors until Dec. 7, 1941.”
It was Roosevelt’s wish to have his remains brought back to Hawaii so he could be reunited with his shipmates who lost their lives during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
“Interments in Pearl Harbor, both at the USS Arizona and the USS Utah, are unique ceremonies that we are all honored to take part in,” said Amanda Carona, ranger at the National Park Service.
“It is an opportunity that not many people can say they have had, but it is an obligation we do not take lightly. We are proud to stand with the United States Navy to return Sailors back to their brothers-in-arms that were lost just over 72 years ago.”
Interment ceremonies are rare events, having fewer than 40 interments of remains on Utah and Arizona. The Navy began interring and scattering ashes of Pearl Harbor survivors in the late 1980s. Only survivors of the Arizona and Utah may return after death to their ships.
Divers from the National Park Service and U.S. Navy returned Roosevelt’s ashes to the site of the attacks to join his shipmates. He received full military honors, including a three-volley rifle salute from members of the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Honors and Ceremonies, playing of “Taps,” and a flag presentation to his family.