Though the USS Utah (BB-31) was reclassified and demilitarized into a target ship ten years prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, that didn’t save her from suffering the wrath of the Japanese. In the early minutes of the assault, the Utah was struck by two torpedoes and started flooding. Of her crew of 525, 64 officers and men were lost before she capsized.
Today, the USS Utah Memorial is open only to military personnel, making it difficult for the public to know about her history and sinking. For a little insight into the Utah, we’ve compiled a few facts about the former battleship, her crew, and her fate during the Pearl Harbor attack.
The Hero of the USS Utah
Many heroes were made on December 7th, 1941, but there are a select few who stand out among the thousands who experienced the assault. On the USS Utah, one individual literally gave everything he had for the sailors he had lived with and served beside.
Peter Tomich served as chief watertender on the Utah and during the attack was stationed to the vessel’s boiler room. As the former battleship started to flood with water, Tomich refused to leave his fellow shipmates behind, and so he remained below to guarantee everyone made it out.
Sadly, his decision was made as the Utah was capsizing, and as the last of the crew escaped, Tomich became stuck where he was. For his selfless actions, Tomich received the most prestigious award, the Medal of Honor.
Demilitarization of the Utah
Just ten years before the Japanese would assault Pearl Harbor, the USS Utah was demilitarized and turned into a target ship. Once listed as BB-31, she was thereafter known as AG-16 and was equipped with antiaircraft guns for training purposes while her primary and secondary weapons were removed.
By April 1st, 1932, after all of the modifications were made, she was recommissioned and returned to service. After several training exercises, by June of 1935, she was modified again, this time with 1.1” / 75 caliber antiaircraft guns for experimental testing.
Her last transfer occurred in September of 1941, when she was moved from the Puget Sound Navy Yard to Pearl Harbor, where her remains still sit today.
Nancy Lynne Wagner may have had nothing to do with the attack on Pearl Harbor, but for over 70 years, her remains have been entombed within the vessel. Serving aboard the Utah was Chief Yeoman Albert Wagner, who prior to the attack had suffered the loss of a baby girl at birth. Nancy died before she had the chance to live her life and to honor his girl, Wagner intended to scatter her ashes at sea when the Utah left the harbor, but the attack took that opportunity away from him.
Though Wagner survived the Utah’s destruction, he never returned for his daughter, instead choosing to allow the urn to remain in his locker. Though it wasn’t the beautiful Pacific, she was in a place that her father had appreciated and served courageously.