George Bennett returned to Hawaii this December to remember Pearl Harbor and to substantiate a story he'd heard about and decided to pursue.
Bennett of Hermiston returned to Hawaii in 1961 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, the 40th anniversary in 1981, the 60th anniversary in 2001 and each December since.
This year Bennett returned with his daughter, Janie Higgins, and her husband Don of Battleground, Wash., to follow through on a story he'd heard about the previous year. He met Mary Kreigh, who had a little known, but remarkable story, he said.
"We went to the USS Arizona memorial and Janie saw this girl wearing a sweater with the USS Utah on the back," Bennett said. "Later, Rear Admiral Bernard J. McCullough III invited us to a brunch in the officers club. Janie saw the girl again and talked to the girl, who's mother was one of the twins, Mary Kreigh from the story. I got to talk to Mary about her birth and her father. "
Kreigh's father was part of the crew of the Utah a battleship converted to a seagoing target ship. Kreigh and her twin sister were born a few days before the attack, in Honolulu. Her twin died shortly after her birth and her body was cremated so her father could scatter her ashes the next time the Utah went to sea, Bennett said.
"On Dec. 7, 1941, the Utah was moored on the opposite side of Ford Island from the famous Battleship Row, site of the catastrophic destruction of the U.S. Fleet," Bennett said. "The Utah was sunk and Mary's father died along with his other 57 shipmates who lost their lives. The baby forever rests in the USS Utah at Pearl Harbor."
The Utah is called the "Forgotten Ship" because it was not on Battleship Row, and due to its location, its wreckage cannot be seen by the public, Bennett said.
"Kreigh is determined that the Utah and her lost crew are remembered along with the more well-known Pearl Harbor ships and crews," he said.
Bennett, U.S. Navy retired, is also determined to never forget that day. On that Sunday morning 62 years ago, he was in his barracks attached to Naval Air on Ford Island preparing to go on liberty. His plans were shattered by the attack of the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. Included in the attack were military bases Hickman Field, now Hickman Air Force Base, Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Field, Bellows Field, Ewa Marine Air Force Station and Kaneohe Naval Air Station.
Bennett was invited to attend a relaxing evening with the Pearl Harbor survivors and their guests this year, visiting with the staff and McCullough.
"He was a real nice man," Bennett said. "I was the only one in uniform. Only three survivors and four guests showed up. The Admiral reached into his pocket and gave me a commemorative token, he said, 'Here chief.' I've got to go back now as long as I can. I am working on getting the Ford Island Patrol included in the wreath presentation for next year."