Burial at sea honors Pearl Harbor hero

Aviation Radioman Chief Petty Officer Henry W. Lawrence

Story and photos by Randy Dela Cruz

Contributing Writer

Amid clear blue skies and the water’s flickering white foam, family members of the late Aviation Radioman Chief Petty Officer Henry W. Lawrence honored his final wish as they scattered his ashes from the USS Utah Memorial during a burial-at-sea ceremony at Ford Island, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, (JBPHH) on Oct. 8.

The memorial paid tribute to Lawrence, who was stationed at Ford Island as a member of Patrol Squadron 22 (VP-22) at the time of the Japanese surprise attack on Dec. 7, 1941. Full military honors included a 21-gun salute provided by Navy Region Hawaii Honors and Ceremonial command, Taps by Musician 3rd Class Shelby Tucci of U.S. Pacific Fleet Band, and the attendance of Capt. Lawrence Scruggs, chief of staff for JBPHH, among other distinguished naval guests.

Paul Lawrence, son of the late chief, and his wife, Sheri, arrived at Pearl Harbor from Alabama to attend the ceremony, while his sister and Florida resident, Paula, was joined by her husband, Jim Marley. A third sibling, Pamela Ackerson, did not make the trip.

Although Paul said that his father rarely ever spoke about the events surrounding the day of infamy, he left little doubt about where he wanted his final resting place to be.

“It was just him wanting to be with the people he was with during the devastation,” Paul said. “It wasn’t like he kept in touch with them, but he would always call them friends.”

In his memoirs, Lawrence recalled that while the day of Dec. 7 started off like any other day, things changed in a hurry as the sounds of the bombs and torpedoes rattled him out of bed and sent him running to the window where he saw the attack unfold right before hise yes.

“Some of the men on the ships were firing back, but it was a losing battle,” he wrote. “Without any opposition, the Japanese had everything going their way. It was damned near sad. The clear air that was over the harbor was now being encompassed with smoke, and the clean water was now turning black with oil.”

From the barracks, Lawrence made his way to his squadron, which was about a half mile away.

Despite dodging rounds from the Japanese zeroes, Lawrence and several others made it safely to the hanger, where he and fellow shipmates fought fires and cleared away burning planes.

According to Jim, his father-in-law remained on Ford Island for a while after the attack, but was later sent off to the South Pacific, where Lawrence did three tours during the Second World War as a member of the Black Cat Squadron.

As it turned out, Jim said that Lawrence’s five years in the service were filled with a lot more action than he anticipated when he volunteered to serve his country.

“His older brother talked him into it,” said Jim about Lawrence, who came from a family of seven brothers and one sister. “He told him, ‘We’ll get into the Navy and we won’t have to go anywhere because we’re in Newport, (R.I.). In a few years, we’ll get out and we’ll be good.’ Unluckily for him, the war broke out.”

While Paul and Jim handled the final task of releasing Lawrence’s ashes into Pearl Harbor, Paula stood off to the side in quiet contemplation of her father, who died last December.

Saying that it was still too hard and emotional to let go of her dad, Paula instead reflected upon his dry sense of humor and kind and gentle manner.

“He was a nice man,” she said. “I realize he was our dad, but I really liked him as a person.”

Paul agreed with his sister and added that their father might have been a bit embarrassed by all the ceremonies surrounding his burial.

“This was much more overwhelming than what we were expecting,” Paul admitted. “My dad would have expected someone to just walk him out there and whoosh. He would have been fine with that. He’s not big into ceremonial type of things, but he would have liked this.”

Meanwhile, although Jim said that he felt a heavy burden as he and Paul emptied the contents of Lawrence’s urn into Pearl Harbor, he would always remember the final time he said goodbye to an old friend.

“This was like the last time that we’re going to see him. It’s like the final act and it’s hard,” Jim related. “But this is something that we’ll never forget. I don’t care if we have a hundred videos or three pictures, you can’t forget this. We’re lucky.”

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Category: News