Personnel commemorate 74th annual West Loch disaster remembrance ceremony

Story and photos by MC2 Somers Steelman

Navy Public Affairs Support Element Detachment Hawaii

Afloat Training Group Middle Pacific, with support from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) and the service Navy association hosted the 74th annual West Loch disaster remembrance ceremony May 18.

On May 21, 1944, while preparing for Operation Forager, a World War II operation for the invasion of Saipan, U.S. Army troops were loading ammunition, weapons and fuel on to vessels.

Following an explosion, fire spread through West Loch, a staging area for landing ships at Pearl Harbor U.S. Naval Base.

“Today we honor the brave men who lost their lives in West Loch,” said Capt. Jeff Bernard, JBPHH commander, and special guest speaker.

“We will never forget the part they played for the cause of freedom, and today we recognize their sacrifice.”

Six ships would sink in the next 24 hours, killing 163 personnel and injuring 396 more, in what was the second-largest tragedy of Pearl Harbor.

Jim Neuman, Navy Region Hawaii historian, recounted the story of one survivor.

“There was a lone Sailor with a hose, desperately trying to fight back the flames,” said Neuman.

“Moments later there was another explosion, and while looking back to see if the Sailor was ok, all that could be seen was the unmanned hose waving through the air.”

The incident could have caused a serious operational delay, but as a result of their actions and the replacements of ships, the men were quickly rounded up and the Landing Ship Tanks got underway only one day late.

The invasion of Saipan took place on schedule, demonstrating the resolve and courage of the Sailors, Marines and Soldiers involved.

As a result of lessons learned from the disaster, and despite the continued aggressive pace of operations during the war, the Navy has not had another accident of the same magnitude.

The Navy has since implemented safer handling of hazardous materials, better munitions related logistics, and more stringent safety related training and certification requirements.

As a sign of respect and remembrance, Hawaii-area Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen laid a wreath in the same sacred waters where the individuals lost their lives.

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