Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Rob Smith, left, of the American Legion Auke Bay Post 25, and Dan McCrummen, quartermaster of Veterans of Foreign Wars Taku Post 5559, place wreaths Sunday on either side of a memorial for the soldiers killed aboard the USS Juneau after it was sunk by torpedoes on Nov. 13, 1942. The current memorial site for the ship’s namesake town debuted 10 years ago after it was relocated from its original site near Marine Park.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire Rob Smith, left, of the American Legion Auke Bay Post 25, and Dan McCrummen, quartermaster of Veterans of Foreign Wars Taku Post 5559, place wreaths Sunday on either side of a memorial for the soldiers killed aboard the USS Juneau after it was sunk by torpedoes on Nov. 13, 1942. The current memorial site for the ship’s namesake town debuted 10 years ago after it was relocated from its original site near Marine Park.

USS Juneau memorial honors survivors, sacrifice

Gov. Dunleavy, local veterans among those paying tribute on 80th anniversary of ship’s sinking

A necklace with 10 pearls worn by Donna Hurley represents a sliver of the horrific tale of 10 men aboard the USS Juneau when it sank in 20 seconds after being hit by a torpedo. Those 10 men were the only survivors of the 697 crew when rescuers finally arrived to retrieve them from the ocean eight days later.

The full magnitude of the tragedy on Nov. 13, 1942, is another bead strand she made on display during a memorial event Sunday commemorating the 80th anniversary of the ship’s sinking. The main strand has 697 pearls representing each of the ship’s crew members, plus beads of other colors representing the survivors and other people significantly associated with the vessel.

Donna Hurley and Tim Armstrong discuss the sinking of the USS Juneau during a reception Sunday at the Mount Roberts Tram terminal following a memorial ceremony commemorating the 80th anniversary of the vessel’s sinking. Both longtime Juneau residents are among those who’ve met some or all of the 10 survivors of the 697 soldiers aboard the ship. Hurley, who met survivors during a trip to the ship’s construction site in New Jersey, also made a string of remembrance beads with one pearl for each solider who was killed, plus other beads for noteworthy people associated with the ship. Armstrong introduced surviving members who served as grand marshals of the local Fourth of July parade in 1987. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Donna Hurley and Tim Armstrong discuss the sinking of the USS Juneau during a reception Sunday at the Mount Roberts Tram terminal following a memorial ceremony commemorating the 80th anniversary of the vessel’s sinking. Both longtime Juneau residents are among those who’ve met some or all of the 10 survivors of the 697 soldiers aboard the ship. Hurley, who met survivors during a trip to the ship’s construction site in New Jersey, also made a string of remembrance beads with one pearl for each solider who was killed, plus other beads for noteworthy people associated with the ship. Armstrong introduced surviving members who served as grand marshals of the local Fourth of July parade in 1987. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

“I did it to show the Mendenhall Flying Lions that this is the scope of what we have lost,” she said. “You see them lying there and it’s like a jumble, but you hold them up and you can just see the length.”

The USS Juneau, a Navy light cruiser, was christened by Ina Lucas, wife of Juneau’s then-Mayor Harry Lucas, when it was launched in New Jersey in October of 1941. The ship was sunk slightly more than a year later by a Japanese torpedo during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Among the most-prominent historical details is the sinking killed all five Sullivan brothers serving aboard the ship due to a not-strictly-enforced military policy of separating siblings.

About 30 people attended Sunday’s commemoration at a memorial for the crew located along the seawalk just south of the Mount Roberts Tram, followed by a reception in the tram’s terminal. Gov. Mike Dunleavy delivered the keynote address, detailing the ship’s history in several battles during its short lifespan and reading a letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt from the mother of five brothers who perished when the vessel sank.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Gov. Mike Dunleavy recites the Pledge of Allegiance during a ceremony Sunday commemorating the 80th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Juneau, killing 687 of the 697 people aboard. Dunleavy gave the keynote speech during the ceremony at a memorial for the soldiers, during which he read a letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt from the mother of five brothers who perished aboard the ship.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire Gov. Mike Dunleavy recites the Pledge of Allegiance during a ceremony Sunday commemorating the 80th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Juneau, killing 687 of the 697 people aboard. Dunleavy gave the keynote speech during the ceremony at a memorial for the soldiers, during which he read a letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt from the mother of five brothers who perished aboard the ship.

“What I would like folks to remember is it was an incredible ship that took part in some incredible battles at an incredible time in our history by really incredible men who in many respects were still boys,” Dunleavy said. “But they did their duty when they were called upon to do their duty and they sacrificed.”

Hurley — who met the survivors during a visit to a commemorative event in Kearny, New Jersey, where the ship was built — made the bead strands in association with the return to Juneau of the USS Juneau’s silver set that local students raised the money to purchase. The beads on display in the tram’s terminal Sunday were a replica of the original strand, which was stolen from the American Legion Auke Bay Post 25 in 2020.

Another longtime Juneau resident with memories of meeting former crew of the USS Juneau is Tim Armstrong, an enlistee during the Vietnam War, who introduced still-living survivors who were honored as the grand marshals of the local Fourth of July parade in 1978. Among them was former seaman first class Wyatt Butterfield and, despite the historical magnitude of the ship’s sinking and generation in their service, the two men had plenty of war and other stories to swap as they toured the sights of Juneau during the visit.

“Naturally at that time we both shared the experience of being awarded the Bronze Star,” Armstrong said.

The USS Juneau in New York Harbor on Feb. 11, 1942. (Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives)

The USS Juneau in New York Harbor on Feb. 11, 1942. (Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives)

The original local memorial for the USS Juneau’s crew was dedicated a day after the parade, along the dock near Marine Park. But Carl Uchytil, Juneau’s port director and a retired U.S. Coast Guard captain, told those at Sunday’s gathering why the memorial made its debut in its current location exactly 10 years ago, due to an expansion of the Juneau visitor’s center where the original memorial was located.

“It was determined that this location along the seawalk was more fitting and at a point of interest along the seawalk,” he said.

Uchytil said supporters of the memorial are planning improvements, including a better interpretive display of the battle when the ship sank.

“Just as the original memorial honored the crew of the USS Juneau we hope this location continues to remind the citizens of Juneau and our many visitors of the sacrifices that were made to keep our country strong and free,” he said.

• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

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