Honolulu Lee Soucy decided five years ago that when he died he wanted to join his shipmates killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Soucy lived to be 90, passing away just last year. On Tuesday, seven decades after dozens of fellow sailors were killed when the USS Utah sank on Dec. 7, 1941, a Navy diver will take a small urn containing his ashes and place it in a porthole of the ship.
The ceremony is one of five memorials being held this week for servicemen who lived through the assault and want their remains placed in Pearl Harbor out of pride and affinity for those they left behind.
“They want to return and be with the shipmates that they lost during the attack,” said Jim Taylor, a retired sailor who coordinates the ceremonies.
The memorials are happening the same week the country observes the 70th anniversary of the aerial bombing that killed 2,390 Americans and brought the United States into World War II. A larger ceremony to remember all those who perished will be today just before 8 a.m. Hawaii time — the same moment the devastating attack began.
Most of the 12 ships that sank or were beached that day were removed from the harbor, their metal hulls salvaged for scrap. Just the Utah and the USS Arizona still lie in the dark blue waters. Only survivors of those vessels may return in death to their ships.
The cremated remains of Vernon Olsen, who served aboard the Arizona, will be interred on his ship during a sunset ceremony today. The ashes of three other survivors are being scattered in the harbor.
Soucy, the youngest of seven children, joined the Navy out of high school so he wouldn’t burden his parents. In 1941, he was a pharmacist mate, trained to care for the sick and wounded.
He had just finished breakfast that Sunday morning when he saw planes dropping bombs on airplane hangars. He rushed to his battle station after feeling the Utah lurch but soon heard the call to abandon ship as the vessel began sinking. He swam to shore, where he made a makeshift first aid center to help the wounded and dying. He worked straight through for two days.
The Utah lost nearly 60 men on Dec. 7, and about 50 are still entombed in the battleship. Today, the rusting hull of the Utah sits on its side next to Ford Island, not far from where it sank 70 years ago.
Soucy’s daughter, Margaret, said her parents had initially planned to have their ashes interred together at their church in Plainview, Texas. But her father changed his mind after visiting Pearl Harbor for the 65th anniversary in 2006.
“He announced that he wanted to be interred on the Utah. And my mother looked a little hurt and perplexed. And I said, ‘Don’t worry Daddy, I’ll take that part of your ashes that was your mouth and I’ll have those interred on the Utah. And you can then tell those that have preceded you, including those that were entombed, what’s been going on in the world,’” Margaret Soucy recalled saying with a laugh.
Soucy’s three children, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren — 11 family members altogether — will be attending the sunset ceremony today. His wife died earlier this year.
An urn carrying the ashes of Vernon Olsen, who was among the 334 on the Arizona to survive the attack, will be interred in a gun turret on the Arizona today. Most of the battleship’s 1,177 sailors and Marines who died on Dec. 7 are still entombed on the ship.