PEARL HARBOR (HawaiiNewsNow) - Vernon James Olsen died last April in Port Charlotte, Florida, at the age of 91. As part of the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, his ashes came back to the U.S.S. Arizona.
Olsen was aboard the Arizona on December 7, 1941. The Illinois native was assigned to mess duty when the attack happened. He was ordered to abandon ship after a bomb exploded, and suffered severe burns to his arms as he was escaping, but he was rescued and transported to Ford Island.
"He yearned for his remains to rejoin his shipmates aboard the U.S.S. Arizona upon his death," said Paul DePrey, U.S. National Parks Superintendent of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.
Olsen lived a full life that was denied 1,177 of his shipmates, whose names are engraved at the Arizona Memorial. An urn with his ashes was aboard the memorial, waiting to be interred, beneath the water's surface, on the ship that he was ordered to abandon.
"To my knowledge, there are only two ships in the U.S. Navy where this occurs, both here at Pearl Harbor," DePrey said. "Here at the U.S.S. Arizona, and also at the U.S.S. Utah."
After a short service, it was time for his widow, Jo Ann, to give one final goodbye. And then Vernon James Olsen's ashes were given to National Park Service divers, who carried the urn, slowly, reverently, in one final journey on the water's surface, before slipping beneath to return Olsen to where he was 70 years ago. Back with his fellow sailors, aboard the Arizona.
"Once the urn is placed inside a crack in Turret 4, we honor the rejoining of this individual, returning to his shipmates. It evokes the bonds that occur between sailors and their ships," DePrey told the gathering.
The oldest Pearl Harbor survivor assigned to the Arizona attended the service. Joseph Langdell, 97, intends to be interred the same way, even though he was on Ford Island when the attack started.
"I was there and waiting for the mail for the next day or whatever it was. Otherwise, I would've been blown up on the ship," Langdell said.
Langdell will have to wait for now, as Vernon James Olsen's name joins all those others at the Arizona Memorial.
Olsen was buried with full military honors. He is the 34th Arizona survivor to be interred aboard the U.S.S. Arizona.