By Brandon Bosworth, Assistant Editor, Ho'okele
Afloat Training Group (ATG) Middle Pacific (MIDPAC) and the 8th Theater Sustainment Command held a joint service ceremony marking the 71st anniversary of the West Loch Disaster on May 21.
The event was held aboard a U.S. Army Logistics Support Vessel (LSV) stationed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, which sailed to the site of the tragedy.
The West Loch Disaster occurred on May 21, 1944. Thirty-four ships were in Pearl Harbor’s West Loch to load ammunition and supplies for the impending U.S. invasion of Saipan. The LSTs (landing ship, tank), small ships designed to land battle-ready tanks, were close together along six berths.
At 3:08 p.m., an explosion occurred resulting in a chain reaction of explosions that sank six of the LSTs and severely damaged several others.There were 163 men were killed and 396 wounded. Nearly one-third of the casualties came from the Army’s segregated African American 29th Chemical Decontamination Company.
The West Loch Disaster was Pearl Harbor’s second greatest disaster in terms of casualties. The exact cause was never determined.
Attending the ceremony were service members from the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, as well as personnel from the National Park Service and guests from the African-American Diversity Cultural Center Hawaii.
Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Brown, ATG MIDPAC, served as master of ceremonies, and chaplain Maj. Douglas Johnson, 647th Air Base Group, provided the invocation and benediction. Maj. Gen. Edward F. Dorman, commanding general of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, offered remarks at the event.
With the wreckage of one of the sunken ships, LST 480, in the background, he stressed the valuable lessons learned from that fiery day at West Loch.
“The West Loch Disaster forced systematic changes in explosive safety,” he said. “Having been in combat, I can attest to the rigorous requirements for handling ammunition, explosives, and fuel.”
Jim Neuman, Navy Region Hawaii historian, talked a bit about Pearl Harbor’s history and the specifics of what happened at West Loch. He emphasized the actions of those responding to the disaster.
“There was a very quick response,” he said. “Like on Dec. 7, the responders were very professional and will-trained.”
The ceremony concluded with a rifle salute and the playing of “Taps.” The youngest service members in attendance than placed a floral wreath in the waters of Pearl Harbor in honor of those who lost their life at West Loch 71 years ago.