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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Pearl Harbor survivors make quiet pilgrimage

 •  Journal captured turmoil of life
 •  Pearl Harbor events
 •  Special report: Pearl Harbor Plus Sixty Years

Pearl Harbor survivor Edward Wentzlaff of Butterfield, Minn., returns the salutes of sailors as he heads to the USS Arizona Memorial Museum. He was escorted by Petty Officer 1st Class James Anthony and accompanied by his daughter, Judy Atkinson.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

PEARL HARBOR — Historians call them survivors, but it's a bittersweet term for the old sailors of the USS Arizona.

It always conjures questions that are hard to answer about the Dec. 7, 1941, attack that sank their ship and killed their friends. It was like that yesterday, when 20 survivors visited the Arizona Memorial.

Their trip to the memorial — the tomb of 1,177 shipmates — was a solemn prelude to the 60th anniversary of the attack.

"To me, it's a point of peace and I get the feeling that they know we're there," Clinton Westbrook, an 82-year-old survivor from Sanford, Fla., said after the visit. "It's a feeling. It's a moment. But it never answers the perpetual question: Why? Why them and not me?"

Everett Reid of Antioch, Calif., adds his signature to a placard signed by other Pearl Harbor survivors at the USS Arizona Memorial Museum.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Edward Wentzlaff, an 84-year-old survivor from Butterfield, Minn., has often asked the same question.

He was an ordnance mate second class near the bow of the Arizona when the Japanese planes howled out of the sky. Conventional wisdom said it was safer for sailors if they went down below-decks, but he headed aft to his battle station and that kept him alive.

"Everyone who went down there is dead," Wentzlaff said.

This was Wentzlaff's fifth visit to the memorial. He spent some in the shrine room, reading the names of the dead that are carved into the white marble wall.

"I see these names of the good friends of mine and it's hard to understand," he said. "Why them? I always say a prayer there. I had a dear friend who didn't make it."

Wentzlaff plans to have his ashes placed in the Arizona. His two daughters, who got him a first-class plane ticket for the trip to the 60th anniversary, joked with him that his next flight to Hawai'i would be in an urn. But they couldn't laugh away the painful memories.

"It was very emotional," said one of his daughters, Mary Flock of Milaca, Minn. "Almost all his friends died that day."

Wentzlaff was at the head of the procession when the survivors, accompanied by 270 relatives and friends, arrived yesterday at the memorial's visitor center. They were welcomed by 200 Navy sailors dressed in whites, all saluting, all looking just as young as the Arizona crewmen in 1941.

Tourists and officials watching the procession burst into applause.

James Anthony, a 1st class boatswain's mate, escorted Wentzlaff. He had ordered the sailors into line yesterday with no-nonsense commands, even marshaled an admiral, too, but the survivors left him awed.

A tour boat carrying Pearl Harbor survivors and their families and friends makes its way out to the Arizona Memorial for a private visit.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

"It's an honor I can't begin to describe," Anthony said. "It's a tearful one and a joyous one. It's a tearful one because of the pain they went through and a joyful one because they are here, alive."

Rear Adm. Robert T. Conway Jr., commander of Navy Region, Hawai'i, greeted the survivors, whom he called "all my heroes." Conway likened the Pearl Harbor bombing to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He pointed to the Arizona, "which represents the nation with its guard down," and pointed to the battleship USS Missouri, "which is the answer, the nation's resolve."

"These colors do not run," Conway said. "And I assure you that your legacy will be taken on by the men and women in uniform."

And with that, the veterans and their families went by boat to the memorial.

It was Everett Reid's first trip back in nearly 60 years. The Antioch, Calif., resident will turn 84 tomorrow, Dec. 6, and the memory of the attack has haunted him because he had been on liberty to celebrate his birthday. A good friend had not made it to the party in Waikiki and stayed aboard ship.

He is still there.

"I saw the names of my old shipmates, which brought back memories of them as I knew them," Everett said, leaning on a walker, surrounded by two daughters and his wife, Barbara. He had never wanted to come back, they said.

"If I had been there," he said. "I'd still be there."

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.