Buglers sounded taps twice Monday along the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge as bells rang out for the servicemen killed 74 years ago during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and for each of the 17 Coast Guardsmen who died in the Dec. 7, 1968, sinking of the cutter White Alder on the Mississippi River just south of Baton Rouge.
At a ceremony on the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum beginning at 11:55 a.m. — the exact moment, 7:55 local time in Hawaii, that Japanese warplanes began their attack on the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor — officials from the floating museum read the names of each of the 45 Louisiana service members killed in the attack. The Kidd, a destroyer that saw action in World War II and the Korean War, is named for Rear Adm. Isaac Kidd, who was killed aboard the USS Arizona during the Pearl Harbor attack.
During the Pearl Harbor Day memorial, 88-year-old Lydia Grant, the daughter of a naval officer who was stationed in Hawaii, recalled waking up as a 14-year-old girl on Dec. 7, 1941, to the sound of Japanese dive bombers buzzing overhead — and initially mistaking the enemy aircraft for American planes.
“I thought, ‘Those are really realistic maneuvers for us,’ ” said Grant, who lives in Zachary. “Of course, they weren’t maneuvers.”
The Pearl Harbor attack, which claimed the lives of more than 2,400 American sailors and soldiers, led the United States to enter World War II.
Gerald Campbell, an 89-year-old Army veteran who served in the Pacific during World War II, was among the dozens of people who crowded aboard the Kidd for the ceremony Monday, while dozens of schoolchildren watched from the levee.
Campbell, who lives in Pine Grove, said he can still distinctly remember hearing about the attacks over the radio in Odessa, Texas — and intently listening to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s dramatic address to Congress the day after the attack. Several speakers aboard the USS Kidd on Monday referred to the speech and quoted Roosevelt’s description of Dec. 7 as “a date which will live in infamy.”
A few minutes after the ceremony aboard the Kidd ended with a prayer, a large contingent of Coast Guard personnel in dress uniform gathered with dozens of others yards away from the warship to mark a quieter but no less poignant tragedy.
The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter White Alder had been performing the “humble and often overlooked job of tending buoys and guiding the occasional errant ship,” Coast Guard Chaplain Lt. David Pahs said.
The ship was headed toward its home port of New Orleans when, at 6:29 p.m., it collided with the SS Helena, a northbound freighter, and quickly sank in 75 feet of water in a bend in the Mississippi River near White Castle. Seventeen of the ship’s 20 crew members went down with the White Alder.
Among those at Monday’s ceremony were relatives of Engineman 3rd Class Walton O’Quinn, who was working below deck on the White Alder when it collided with the Helena and is among the 15 crew members buried with the vessel. The bodies of the other two who died were recovered.
At 9 a.m. Monday, the Coast Guard Cutter Pamlico sailed to the exact spot where the White Alder sank, laying a wreath in the water.
Barbara O’Quinn Smith, one of O’Quinn’s sisters, made the trip from Brunswick, Georgia, to be at the ceremony along with a number of other family members, including a grandchild O’Quinn never got the chance to meet. Smith’s brother, a career Coast Guard sailor, served two years in Vietnam before being assigned to the White Alder, she said.
Watching the Pamlico lay the wreath on the Mississippi on Monday, Smith said, was the first time she’d seen the spot where her brother died and his body now rests.
“It was very emotional,” Smith said. “Seeing how narrow the river is there and how I know he’s down there.”