St. George’s sole living survivor of Pearl Harbor, community join in tribute

Pearl Harbor Ceremony at Vernon Worthen Park, 300 S. 400 E. in St. George, Utah, Dec. 7, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Against a bright December sky, at precisely 10:48 a.m. Sunday, community joined the American Legion Lester Keate Post 90 at Vernon Worthen Park in St. George, offering sober remembrance to the bombing of Pearl Harbor 73 years ago.  Among those present was Garth Sawyers, St. George’s last living survivor of the Japanese attack that pushed the United States into war and caused the death of more than 2,000 Americans.

WWII veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor Garth Sawyers, at Vernon Worthen Park, Pearl Harbor Memorial, St. George, Utah, Dec. 7, 2014 | Photo by Melissa Anderson, St. George News and KCSG
WWII veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor Garth Sawyers, at Vernon Worthen Park, Pearl Harbor Memorial, St. George, Utah, Dec. 7, 2014 | Photo by Melissa Anderson, St. George News and KCSG

“The Japanese planes come over our deck,” Sawyers said, “and tried their machine guns along our deck and .20-caliber guns; but we didn’t have any casualties.”

A wreath was placed at the base of the Pearl Harbor monument following the ceremony that began with members of Lester Keate Post 90 raising the flag to the tune of “To the Colors” played on the bugle. The flag was then lowered to half-staff while the bugle played “Taps.” The Post 90’s rifle team then fired a rifle salute.

When he joined the American Legion organization in St. George about 20 years ago, there were about 30 Pearl Harbor survivors, Sawyers said, sitting beside the monument in Vernon Worthen Park.

“And now, there’s only one left,” he said, with a gentle smile.

For Vietnam Veteran Lee Reinninger, 75, of St. George, who was just 3 years old when the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred, being at this ceremony means giving back and showing honor to people who have sacrificed their lives for the greater population.

“We had a lot of men lose their lives that day, over 2,000 men,” Reinninger said. “They gave their lives for the freedom of America.”

Danny Greathouse, president of the Vietnam Veterans Chapter 961, said he thinks of his wife on Pearl Harbor Day.

“She is full Japanese,” Greathouse said. “Her parents were put in internment camps during the war. Her dad was released and ended up going across seas. By being there, he ended up dying from radiation poisoning.”

Dick Werner and his wife Barbara Werner sit at the Pearl Harbor Ceremony at the Vernon Worthen Park, 300 S. 400 E. in St. George, Utah, Dec. 7, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News
Dick Werner and his wife Barbara Werner sit at the Pearl Harbor Ceremony at the Vernon Worthen Park, 300 S. 400 E. in St. George, Utah, Dec. 7, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

Dick Werner, 90, who served in the Navy during WWII, sat on a bench beside his wife of 71 years, Barbara Werner, and recalled memories of serving in the Navy during 1942-1944. For him, he said, Pearl Harbor conjures memories of the war that followed.

“I was on leave in Chicago at the time of Pearl Harbor,” Dick Werner said. “I was reassigned to a destroyer in Boston. The Germans had 2,300 submarines in the North Atlantic. When we’d get a contact, we’d drop a couple (charges).”

Dick Werner continued and said:

We were in Okinawa and we were hit with a suicide plane that hit in the deck right above my head. The men who were above had skin hanging clear from their arms. I’m just grateful that we are all here looking down at the grass rather than looking up at it.

Jennie Campbell said she remembers her father, William Clinton Campbell, who served in the Navy and was aboard the USS Cockatoo, a coastal minesweeper, the day of Pearl Harbor.

Jackie Campbell (left)and her mom, Jennie Campbell, show a picture of Lt. William Clinton Campbell and the hat he wore the day of Pearl Harbor at the Pearl Harbor Ceremony held at the Vernon Worthen Park, 300 S. 400 E. in St. George, Utah, Dec. 7, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News
Jackie Campbell (left) and her mom, Jennie Campbell, show a picture of Lt. William Clinton Campbell and the hat he wore the day of Pearl Harbor at the Pearl Harbor Ceremony held at the Vernon Worthen Park, 300 S. 400 E. in St. George, Utah, Dec. 7, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

“They were on the ship and they hear bomb planes and they think it’s drills, and then all the sudden, it’s happening and they started rushing around,” Jennie Campbell said. “This is what he was wearing that day,” she said, holding out a tan, worn Navy hat.

Pearl Harbor Day awakens a sea of emotions in member of the patriot guard Linda High-Spiry, she said, as both her father, Vincent F. Brophy, and her late-husband Orville H. High, served in WWII.

“My daddy was a fighter pilot with the pineapple pursuit squadron,” High-Spiry said. “One day he was flying a private plane — his friend and his (friend’s) wife were also flying — and flew into the Japanese. He managed to land his plane but the couple got blown right out of the sky.”

Linda High-Spiry points out her late husband's name on the Pearl Harbor monument at the Vernon Worthen Park, 300 S. 400 E. in St. George, Utah, Dec. 7, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News
Linda High-Spiry points out her late husband’s name on the Pearl Harbor monument at the Vernon Worthen Park, 300 S. 400 E. in St. George, Utah, Dec. 7, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

High-Spiry said she remembers being a child and seeing black smoke rising in the distance from a downed aircraft and then seeing the base commander coming down the street.

“We’d be crying and scared because you knew someone had died,” she said. “You didn’t want them to stop at your house, but you didn’t want them to stop anywhere else either. My mom never said to us, ‘Daddy may never come home,’ but we knew.”

St. George News and KCSG reporter Melissa Anderson contributed the Garth Sawyers interview included in this report.

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1 Comment

  • Krazyk December 8, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    That’s Amazing. I had no idea this ceremony was going to occur. We should make this more well known. These valiant men deserve so much for their sacrifice.

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