JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM - Hawaii-based Sailors took five rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs) to the site of the West Loch disaster to conduct a wreath-laying ceremony, May 21, to honor the men who lost their lives in the disaster.
Hosted by the Surface Navy Association, Sailors from Afloat Training Group Middle Pacific (ATG MIDPAC), USS Chosin (CG 65), USS Hopper (DDG 70) and USS Crommelin (FFG 37) took their RHIBs to the site of the wreckage of LST-480 to remember the events of May 21, 1944.
"This is one of those not-well-known disasters," said Capt. John Figuerres, the commanding officer of ATG MIDPAC. "If you ask Sailors, even on the waterfront, about the West Loch disaster, probably not too many of them know about it. It is important that we get this out and say, 'hey, there were others who lost their lives here, and it's important that we remember that.'"
Up until 1960, the West Loch disaster was previously a secret American World War II maritime accident in which six ships docked at the West Loch peninsula in Pearl Harbor sank and 163 service members loading the vessels with munitions and supplies were killed. West Loch served as a staging area for ships in preparation for Operation Forager, the invasion of the Japanese-held Mariana Islands.
"We wanted to go out there this morning as part of the Surface Navy Association and remember the lives that were lost out there," said Figuerres. "We like to tie everything into training. Subsequently, due to this disaster and other disasters that happened with ordnance handling, we, the Navy, have changed the way we handle ordnance and the way we train people. Some of that training still exists today."
On May 21, 1944, at 3 p.m., the first explosion occurred aboard LST-353 and subsequently spread fire among the tightly packed ships loaded with fuel and munitions. The resulting fires, which led to the sinking of six LSTs, lasted for about 24 hours. The exact cause of the disaster was never determined, but some believed a mortar round exploded during an unloading operation.
Another ceremony was conducted later in the day at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl). Rear Adm. Frank Ponds, Commander, Navy Region Hawaii, presented a keynote address about the meaning and legacy of the West Loch disaster.