ST. GEORGE - Members of various veterans’ organizations and the community gathered in Vernon Worthen Park in St. George today to honor the four remaining Pearl Harbor survivors in Southern Utah: Garth Sawyers, Lee Warren, Wardell Jenkins and Dick Werner.
An Army corporal, Sawyers was on board the cargo ship USS Antares, which was entering Pearl Harbor with a barge in tow when the attack started. The Antares was threatened by a midget submarine that was subsequently sunk by the destroyer USS Ward and became the day’s first battle casualty.
Warren, a chief petty officer in the Navy, was on board the destroyer USS Macdonough, anchored in the harbor. As the senior fire control man, he coordinated all of the ship’s 5-inch guns to attack approaching Japanese aircraft. The crew was credited with 1 1/2 kills.
A sergeant in the Army, Jenkins was ashore and just leaving the mess hall at the start of the attack. He was carrying his M1 service rifle and, having taken shelter behind a nearby palm tree, fired at advancing aircraft. He successfully downed a Zero with one shot; it crashed into the sea.
Werner served in the Navy on the USS Arizona, perhaps the most remembered Pearl Harbor casualty. He was on leave during the attack, having returned to the continental U.S. to surprise his girlfriend (Bobbi, who remains his wife after 68 years) with a proposal. Long after retiring from active duty, Werner co-founded the Dixie High School Air Force JROTC and was instrumental in the decision to build the Veterans’ Nursing Home in Ivins. For his military service and ongoing commitment to veterans’ affairs, Werner is an honorary member of the survivors’ association.
Videocast report of today’s ceremony, with words from each honoree survivor.
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Videocast by Sarafina Amodt, St. George News
Aside from the survivors, the event was attended by members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2628, the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 961, American Legion posts 90, 912, 142 and 114, the Patriot Guard Riders of Southern Utah, the United Sentinel Alliance the Dixie State College of Utah Army ROTC, the Dixie High School Air Force JROTC and the Utah National Guard 222nd Field Artillery Unit, better known as the “Triple Deuce.”
The ceremony was coordinated by Linda High-Spiry. As the daughter of a Pearl Harbor survivor, the widow of another Pearl Harbor survivor and the current wife of a Vietnam War veteran, the military is very near to her heart. She has been active in the association for over 15 years and has served as the master of ceremonies for the memorial service once before.
“The military is a family; one forms bonds based on the (knowledge) that each day is a gift that may not be repeated tomorrow,” she said. “These four remaining survivors are like blood brothers to me and that is why I (wanted to) honor them with my contribution to this (event.)”
The ceremony began at 11 a.m. sharp, as a limousine carrying the four survivors pulled up to Vernon Worthen Park. Half of the Patriot Guard Riders escorted the vehicle on their motorcycle, while the other half waited in the park with a flag line. Each of the survivors were greeted with a lei and robust applause from the crowd.
Following the presentation and raising of the flag to half-staff, singer Sheri Peterson performed the national anthem a cappella. Once the crowd took their seats, each of the survivors were formally announced and Marine Corps veteran Hal Hess took to the stage for a solemn reading of the names of deceased members of the survivors’ association, which over the last two decades has shrunk from 32 to four. Members of the American Legion played “Taps” and presented a ceremonial rifle salute.
“(Those) who serve are why this country is great,” Bret Brown of the United Sentinel Alliance said in an emotional speech. “There are (many) out there who don’t feel the same and they’ve tried to break us. Pearl Harbor is an example of that. It’s also an example (that shows) America can’t be broken.”
High-Spiry spoke next, recalling her family’s strong ties to the armed forces with smiles and tears. Each of the survivors then shared a memory from their time in uniform; Jenkins recited a native song he learned while stationed in Fiji that he vowed to remember for the rest of his life.
After performances of “Letters from War” by Sheri Peterson and “Let There Be Peace on Earth” by 7-year-old Maggie Peterson, J. Robert DuBois recalled his own, often painful, memories of serving as a Navy SEAL in the Middle East after 9/11. He also recited several passages from his book, “Powerful Peace: A Navy SEAL’s Lessons on Peace from a Lifetime of War.”
The ceremony closed with a prayer from Rev. Tai Nguyen of the St. George Catholic Church and performance of “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Sheri Peterson.
“We are using this event to (honor) those who have sworn to protect and defend the United States; that applies to those who served in 1941, who are serving today and who will serve tomorrow,” High-Spiry said. “Soldiers have our backs and we want them to know we have their backs. What they deserve is our gratitude, respect and a simple ‘thank you.’”
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