Pearl Harbor survivor Edward Wentzlaff interred in USS Arizona

Brandon Bosworth

Staff Writer

The ashes of Pearl Harbor survivor Aviation Ordnanceman Chief Warrant Officer Edward Wentzlaff were interred aboard the sunken remains of the USS Arizona at a ceremony held Dec. 7 at the USS Arizona Memorial.

Wentzlaff was born Nov. 16, 1917 in Nicollet, Minn. He joined the Navy in 1937, hoping to learn a trade, and was assigned to the USS Arizona the following year.

He was waiting for a Sunday church service to begin when the first Japanese warplanes appeared in the sky overhead on Dec. 17, 1941. When “general quarters” was sounded he rushed to his battle station. It was a dangerous place to be, as he was exposed and vulnerable to direct attack.

However, he credited his decision to go to his battle station instead of going below deck when the attack began with saving his life as within minutes a bomb hit an ammunition magazine, sinking the Arizona.

When the word was passed to abandon ship, Wentzlaff swam to the admiral’s barge, cut it loose, and helped secure it to the crew’s gangway. But his work for the day was not done.

“Despite the Japanese planes strafing the ship and the burning oil enveloping the Arizona, Edward went back,” said Daniel Martinez, historian at the USS Arizona Memorial. “He assisted in the care of the wounded and the men who were badly burned.”

During the war, Wentzlaff served on the USS Yorktown and participated in the Battle of the Coral Sea. He would later serve in Virginia, training thousands of aviators and ordnancemen until the end of the war.

Capt. Larry Scruggs, deputy commander of Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, who also spoke at the ceremony, described Wentzlaff as a man who “never wavered in his faith of his spirit that day.”

“When he abandoned ship, he still had the courage to pull shipmates from the burning harbor, amidst the withering fire of machine guns, bombs and torpedoes,” said Scruggs.

“It was this type of bravery and selflessness that all our Pearl Harbor survivors share. His story describes so humbly the dedication of his generation.”

After the war, Wentzlaff returned to Minnesota, settling near Milaca where he farmed for most of his life. He also served as PTA president, school board member and mayor of Butterfield, Minn., commander and lifetime member of VFW Post No. 9607 in Butterfield, Watonwan County commissioner and Milaca Legion member. He had five children, seven grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

However, the events of Dec. 7 were never far from his mind, and Wentzlaff made more than 10 trips to Pearl Harbor.

“It was important to him to honor those who went before him,” said Wentzlaff’s daughter, Mary Flock, who flew in from Minnesota for the ceremony.

Wentzlaff had long intended to be interred at the Arizona.

“He had planned this for over 30 years,” said Flock. “It was his last wish to join his shipmates.”

The ceremony held on Dec. 7 was a rare event. There have been fewer than 40 interments of remains on the USS Arizona. The Navy began interring and scattering ashes of Dec. 7 survivors at Pearl Harbor in the late 1980s. Only survivors of the Arizona and Utah may return after death to their ships.

“These are the only burial services like this in the world,” said Jim Taylor, Pearl Harbor survivor liaison.

Services were led by chaplain Capt. Brent Scott from U.S. Pacific Fleet.

After a moment of silence, Wentzlaff’s remains were taken down to the Arizona by Navy and National Park Service divers and his ashes were placed in one of the gun turrets. The ceremony ended with a rifle salute and a flyover as a bugler played “Taps.” An American flag was presented to his family.

“The U.S. Navy and the National Park Service did a wonderful job, and we really appreciate their efforts,” said Flock.

“I know this was a great honor for my father. Everything that happened during his interment ceremony was wonderful. It was sad but it was phenomenal.”

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Category: News