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.
“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.
“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 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 email@example.com