USS Utah: From Battleship to Memorial
April 19, 2017
When you visit the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, you may hear of a memorial that’s only open to military personnel. On the opposite side of Ford Island, away from the USS Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri, is the memorial for the men of the USS Utah (BB-31), a battleship that, since her decommissioning in 1944, has been largely forgotten in the history of the attack. Once a proud fixture of the US Navy, the Utah, which served in the First World War, was permanently decommissioned in 1944 as a result of the attack, during which she suffered a fatal blow and the loss of 64 members of her crew.
Though the Utah isn’t on the regular tour route at Pearl Harbor, her history is worth knowing and retelling, especially for history buffs looking for every scrap of detail about the December 7th attack on the unsuspecting harbor.
On December 23rd, 1909, the new Florida-class dreadnought was officially launched by the United States Navy. The Utah got her first taste of war in 1914, when she took part in the American occupation of Veracruz during the Mexican Revolution.
During World War I, the Utah was stationed in Ireland, in Bantry Bay. Here, she was assigned as the flagship of Battle Division 6, which was charged with protection duty for convoys coming in and out of the bay. Over the course of the war, the Utah remained off the coast of Ireland until 1918, when she was assigned escort duty for the George Washington liner, which carried President Woodrow Wilson.
After the Utah had served as a battleship in the WWI, in 1931 she was assigned as a target ship and redesignated AG-16. By the time the morning of December 7th dawned, the recommissioned Utah was moored at Ford Island having recently completed anti-aircraft gunnery training. When Japanese fighters flew into the Pearl Harbor, the Utah crew initially believed them to be American craft. Though the battleship was not initially a target of Japan’s attack run, six B5N torpedo bombers mistook boxes on the vessel for turrets and launched six torpedoes.
Two torpedoes struck her hull and before long, she was sinking to the bottom of the harbor. Stories of men like Chief Watertender Peter Tomich, who refused to leave the boilers without ensuring every other crewman had escaped, rose from the Utah’s destruction, and it’s those stories that help the memory of this once mighty battleship live on.
After the attack, attempts to salvage the Utah failed and she was left at the bottom of the harbor, partially submerged. Though the Utah Memorial is closed to the public, it is open for military personnel to pay respects to their fallen comrades, many of whom still lie within the wreckage.