News: Service members honored during 70th anniversary of West Loch disaster
Story by Staff Sgt. Chris Hubenthal
HONOLULU – Gen. Vincent Brooks, Commanding General of U.S. Army Pacific, and Hawaii’s joint military forces honored the West Loch disaster fallen during the 5th Celebration of Life for West Loch Internees ceremony at the National Cemetery of the Pacific May 21.
The West Loch disaster was a maritime accident that occurred on Pearl Harbor May 21, 1944. That afternoon Landing Ships, Tank (LSTs) were tightly positioned as service members loaded them with munitions to support the U.S. Marine invasion of Saipan. At 3:08 p.m. there was a blast aboard a vessel followed by a chain reaction of fire spreading explosions.
“It’s fitting that we stop to honor those who lost their lives in the midst of performing hazardous duty and for the many more who were wounded by the explosions and the fires that began in what was really a second day of infamy in Pearl Harbor, this time in the West Loch Channel,” Brooks said.
The 29th Chemical Decontamination Unit, consisting of mostly African Americans and stationed out of Schofield Barracks, suffered the most fatalities while loading and unloading the munitions on the LSTs.
Many who survived the blasts began an effort to extinguish the fires and rescue the injured.
“We know that the efforts of those who were present that day were heroic and gallant in the midst of unthinkable chaos and danger where high explosives and fuel shredded metal and wood and flesh, but many lives were saved,” Brooks said. “Sadly, many perished or were injured after they initially survived as they were trying to assist or rescue others.”
One hundred and sixty three men lost their lives and 400 were injured during the tragedy. To this day, some of the fallen have been unidentified.
“Let us remember them with the dignity that they so richly deserve and let’s continue to serve our nation with their example in our hearts,” Brooks said. “I’ve been given the gift of understanding the meaning of service and sacrifice through the example of those who rest here under the name ‘Unknown, West Loch disaster 21 May, 1944, Pearl Harbor.’”
The ceremony marked the 70th anniversary since the disaster and honored the memory and contributions of the men and women who lost their lives that day.