We Will Never Forget

07/12/12 11:01 PM


Seventy-one years ago, the United State faced its first major attack on its own soil. Today, we remember those who fought and died at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. On this day, 2,403 people gave their lives in the attack. Of those, 2/3 of those who died occurred in the first 15 minutes of the 110 minute battle. Of those who died, 2,008 were in the Navy, 109 were in the Marine Corps, 218 were in the Army and 68 were civilians. There was an additional 1,178 wounded.

USS Utah

USS Utah

We all know the stories of the USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma, but how many of you know the story of the USS Utah? Brett and I had the opportunity to visit Hawaii in November, 2001, just two months after September 11th. We made a point to go and see Pearl Harbor. After experiencing our own major attack, Pearl Harbor had so much more meaning to us.

Ford Island

Ford Island

As an active duty military member, we were able to go onto Ford Island and see up close and personal what was left after the battle. We walked the landing strip in the middle of the island. As we walked, I stopped to place my finger into the holes left behind by the bullets that rained down on it during the attack. We walked pass the buildings, many with the same bullet holes still visible.

Of all the things we saw in Pearl Harbor, the one that got to me the most was that of the USS Utah. The USS Utah was tied up on the opposite side of Ford Island when the attack happened, so most do not see the memorial that is there now. But the story of this ship is one that shouldn’t be lost to time.

The USS Utah was a naval battleship built in Camden, New Jersey in 1909. This was the only ship in the Navy to be named for the state of Utah. She was launched in December 1909 and commissioned in the Philadelphia Navy Yard on August 21, 1911. She would have a complement of 1,041 officers and men aboard.

On December 7, 1941, the Utah was moored off Ford Island in berth F-11. That morning the Captain and Executive Officer were ashore on leave. On board, the senior officer was Lieutenant Commander Solomon S. Isquith, an Engineer.

 Lieutenant Commander Solomon S. Isquith

Lieutenant Commander Solomon S. Isquith

At just before 8am, the men on topside saw three planes that they thought were American planes, heading in a northerly direction from the harbor entrance. The airplanes made a low dive towards the southern side of Ford Island and began dropping bombs.

The attack on the Utah only lasted for a few minutes. At 8:01am, the ship took a torpedo hit forward and immediately started to list to port and settle hard by the stern. The ship began to roll over on her beam ends. These are 6 inch x 12 inch timbers placed on the decks to cushion them against the impact of the bombs used during the ship’s latest stint as a mobile target. These timbers began to shift and would hamper the crew from abandoning ship.

Chief Watertender Peter Tomich

Chief Watertender Peter Tomich

Below, men headed topside while they could. One man, Chief Watertender Peter Tomich, remained below, making sure that the boilers and water pumps were secure and that all the men had gotten out of the engineering spaces. Another man, Fireman John B. Vaessen, remained at his post in the dynamo room, making sure that the ship had enough power to keep her lights on as long as possible.

Commander Isquith, while making an inspection to clear the ship, nearly became trapped himself. As the ship began to turn over, he found an escape hatch blocked. While he was attempting to escape through a porthole, a table he was standing on slipped out from under him. Just as it did, a man outside grabbed his arm and pulled him through at the last instant.

By 8:12am, the mooring lines snapped and the Utah rolled over on her beam ends. Some of her survivors swam to shore while others took shelter on the mooring quays because the attack was still going on.

Once Commander Isquith and others had reached the shore, they heard knocking from within the overturned ship. Commander Isquith called for volunteers to return to the ship to investigate the tapping. The men obtained a cutting torch from the Raleigh, who was also fighting to survive after an earlier torpedo hit.  As a result of the four volunteers efforts one man, Fireman John Vaessen escaped from a would-be tomb. Fifty-four men would not escape from the USS Utah.

USS Utahtoday

USS Utah

Today, the USS Utah still remains partially submerged at berth F-11. When you go to see it, you can see the side of the ship with its porthole above the water. It is an eerie sight to see knowing that 54 men lay entombed in this ship. Of those men left behind, Chief Watertender Peter Tomich is credited with saving all but the 53. He gave his life to save so many others.


For his “distinguished conduct and extraordinary courage” at that time, he posthumously received the Medal of Honor.

“For distinguished conduct in the line of his profession, and extraordinary courage and disregard of his own safety, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor by the Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. Although realizing that the ship was capsizing, as a result of enemy bombing and torpedoing, Tomich remained at his post in the engineering plant of the U.S.S. Utah, until he saw that all boilers were secured and all fireroom personnel had left their stations, and by so doing lost his own life.”

Peter Tomich was an ethnic Croat born as Petar Herceg near Ljubuski, Austria-Hungary, today Bosnia and Herzegovina. He immigrated to the United States in 1913 and joined the Army in 1917. He served in the Army during World War I and then enlisted in the Navy in 1919. He was 48 years old when he died.

The destroyer escort USS Tomich 1943–1974, was named in honor of Chief Watertender Tomich. The United States Navy Senior Enlisted Academy in Newport, RI is named Tomich Hall in honor of Chief Watertender Tomich. The Steam Propulsion Training Facility at Service School Command Great Lakes is named in honor of Chief Watertender Tomich.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 52 Comments »

52 Comments on “We Will Never Forget”

  1. tucsonmike Says:

    Today is my birthday, so it is a bit hard for me to forget Pearl Harbor Day and I also know damn well which one is more important.

  2. Happy Birthday! It must be hard to share such a day. I hope that you still have a good day.

  3. Excellent post and we will never forget!

  4. Thank you!

  5. terry1954 Says:

    very informative for me. loved it

  6. Thank you. You know me and history 😉

  7. Thanks for the info. Like Mike, I was born on the anniversary of this attack…and my grandmother, who lost a childhood friend aboard the Arizona always made sure I knew the story as she recalled the day.

  8. Happy Birthday! I know it must be hard to have a day such as this to remember. But I hope you and Mike both still had a good day.

  9. […] We Will Never Forget. […]

  10. Thank you so much for sharing us with your readers! We really appreciate it!

  11. marydpierce Says:

    I never forget this day. You really are a wonderful historian. Thank you four your lovely blog.

  12. marydpierce Says:

    *for* not four. I’m on my iPad.

  13. 🙂

  14. Thank you so much! I love history and believe it should be remembered not matter what it is.

  15. Thank you for such a moving story.

  16. You are so welcome. I sat for such a long time when we were there. It was so moving to see it and know the story.

  17. robakers Says:

    Thank you for another part of the story.

  18. You are so welcome! Thank you for stopping by.

  19. kodonivan Says:

    This is an outstanding post. Thank you! Another “hero” of that day of imfamy was a man named John Finn, He was a Medal of Honor recipient and lived not far from me. He passed away a couple years ago and he was in his late, late 90’s. I had the opportunity to meet him a number of years ago and he was so humble about his role in history. I felt privileged to have met such a good American. My dad used to tell me it was the “average” America that we need to remember. Just like those we lost on December 7, 1941.

  20. Wow what a wonderful opportunity you had! I would have loved just sitting and listening. Thank you for sharing!

  21. Kimby Says:

    Thank you for remembering “Pearl Harbor Day” and for telling a little known story of the heroics involved. I’m so grateful to all those who truly served our country.

  22. You are so welcome. It was a moving story for us. Thank you for stopping by!

  23. hayley Says:

    Really interesting, thank you. I’ve not yet been to Hawaii and when I do, visiting Pearl Harbour is top of the list.

  24. Thank you! I would suggest spending a day there!

  25. pdlyons Says:

    many years ago had the honour of visiting the pearl harbour. thank you for posting this and reminding me and others of how much we owe to the men of my fathers generaton. he was not in pearl harbour that day but shortly after at the age of 17 joined the marines 3rd division – “tolerated” the navy all the way to the south pacific and back…” him and so many others gave us all so very much.

  26. I love it! “tolerated” the navy! I have to tell Brett! We joke about it since he was in the navy and I was in the marine corps! You are so welcome! Thank you for stopping by and reading it!

  27. Mrs. P Says:

    Over seventy years and I still get tears in my eyes when I read accounts of the war. It is the specific stories such as this one that get to me the most. It also must have been hard as an immigrant to find yourself suddenly fighting in a war just after arriving to America as so many did in WWI…some of those, fighting against their mother countries.

    It is the struggles, the dreams and the actions of my ancestors which puts things into perspective for me today. And, although Chief Watertender Peter Tomich is not part of my direct lineage he has had the same effect on me and I am grateful for his service!

  28. Wow! How moving your comment is! I can’t only image how it was to live through it! Thank you for a wonderful comment!

  29. This is an excellent post. I really knew nothing about the details of what happened to the Utah, or what her crew went through during the attack. I think as time passes, major events tend to become calcified into a few snapshots that everyone can recall; in this case, as you noted, the sinking of the Arizona and the Oklahoma. But there are often so many other stories that tend to drift away from the consciousness over time. Thank you for taking the time to remember and highlight the bravery of the men of the Utah.

  30. Thank you so much. It is like the history of Belle Grove. As time goes by those that remember die and it gets lost in the present events of our lives. My hope is to have it recorded and placed in our museum so it won’t be lost again.

  31. It can be an odd juxtaposition. People often fail to comprehend the importance of the history they live through, and yet some of those that come afterward so desperately want to learn exactly what took place in earlier times. Your goal is a noble one; good luck.

  32. Thank you!

  33. Chuck Ring Says:

    Thank you for telling the story of the men on USS Utah. Like the commenter above, I had not heard the story and because of you, I now know about those on the Utah who sacrificed their last breath to save their shipmates.

  34. You are so welcome. When we were there, their story just stuck with me through these years. It was very moving. Thank you for stopping by!

  35. gooseyanne Says:

    Thank you for that post – your trip must have been so interesting and very memorable. I`ve just finished reading a book by Ken Follett which includes the attack on Pearl Harbor and describes the raid.

  36. Wow I bet it was a great read! I have a hard time reading about battles. I tend to get too involved in the story. You are so welcome! Thank you for stopping by!

  37. gooseyanne Says:

    Thanks for your reply to my comment. I too don`t tend to read about battles specifically – for the same reason.

  38. 🙂

  39. gooseyanne Says:

    I have nominated you for The Versatile Bloggers Award!

  40. Thank you so much! We really appreciate you sharing us with your readers! It means so much to us! Thank you and Merry Christmas from Virginia and Belle Grove Plantation!

  41. Mustang.Koji Says:

    A wonderful, wonderful post. I love to read accounts of less than well-known “heroics” (a far too often used term) or battles that cost men their lives for love of country and fellow buddies. May they all rest in peace.

  42. Yes, may they all rest in peace. And may we remember them as well. Thank you so much!

  43. When I visited Hawai I also went to Pearl Harbour. it was interesting how the guide told me that most of the Japanese tourists who visited didn’t know the story!!

  44. I think I could understand why they wouldn’t. I am sure its not one of the shining moments now that they had to surrender.

  45. Heroes, one and all.

    S. Thomas Summers
    Pushcart Nominated Author of Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War

  46. Yes I totally agree!

  47. […] Last but not least for today is a Pearl Harbor article. On the day of such a significant events in history, I generally don’t write about them. There are so many others–some better that I–writing about the topic, I like to read what they write. Out of all the Pearl Harbor pieces that I read, I can highly recommend Belle Grove Plantation’s We Will Never Forget. […]

  48. Thank you so much! What an honor to be shared with your readers!

  49. oarubio Says:

    Another great story from The Greatest Generation. Thanks for a fine article!

  50. You are so welcome! It was the most moving story of our trip to Hawaii. Thank you for stopping by!

  51. […] Last but not least for today is a Pearl Harbor article. On the day of such a significant events in history, I generally don’t write about them. There are so many others–some better that I–writing about the topic, I like to read what they write. Out of all the Pearl Harbor pieces that I read, I can highly recommend Belle Grove Plantation’s We Will Never Forget. […]

  52. Thank you so much for sharing our blog with your readers! It means so much to us!