Providence Journal: Pearl Harbor Hero Ray Haerry Returns to Fallen Brothers (WWII Foundation Film)

By Mark Patinkin-Jessica Marino held the urn with her grandfather’s ashes as she walked into Newark airport. She was on her way to bring him to rest inside the sunken battleship Arizona in Pearl Harbor.

His name was Ray Haerry, and he died last year at age 94. He was on deck Dec. 7, 1941, when the infamous attack began.

The remains of more than 900 sailors killed that day aboard the Arizona remain inside. Of the 334 who survived, 41 have asked over the years to rejoin their fellow sailors upon their death.

Ray Haerry, who grew up in Warwick and raised a family there, would be the 42nd. Only five other survivors are still alive.

Jessica was Haerry’s sole grandchild. She is now 34, a freelance book editor living in New Jersey with her husband and two young children. The four of them were making the journey – five really.

As they walked into the airport, Jessica was approached by an American Airlines rep. The airline has a veterans program that was paying for the trip, but she did not expect what was about to unfold.

At the gate, an honor guard of sailors in dress whites stood at attention. A bagpiper played. Then, over the speakers, the American rep told the other passengers about Ray Haerry, and read a short bio.

It explained that he was 19 when the bomb blew him off the Arizona. He then swam to shore past burning fuel and manned a .50-caliber machine gun. He spent the rest of the day in a patrol boat recovering bodies. Afterward, he gave the Navy, and his country, 26 years.

Jessica took her seat on the plane, holding the urn, a simple plastic box – appropriate, she thought, for a straightforward man like her grandfather.

It occurred to her he had never talked about that day, or his service, or been back to Pearl Harbor. Yet he’d chosen to be buried there. It told her a lot about his generation – quiet souls who seemed to leave the war behind, when deep down it remained their defining experience.

The funeral was at 5 p.m. the day before Easter, on the white Arizona memorial that sits in Pearl Harbor.

More than 100 were in attendance, including Rhode Island-based filmmaker Tim Gray, who has spent a career doing World War II documentaries, one of them including Ray Haerry. Gray had used his contacts to help coordinate the interment. He plans to make the burial his 19th film, to be called, “Journey Home to the USS Arizona.”

I asked Gray why Haerry wanted to be placed back aboard. He said it was about Haerry’s shipmates.

“It’s an unspoken bond these guys had with each other,” said Gray. “These were Ray Haerry’s brothers, really. They were a band of brothers.” And the Arizona was their home.

Most at the funeral were in uniform. The urn was on a table at the front.

Daniel Martinez, chief historian and ranger for the National Park Service, which oversees the memorial, spoke of what Haerry and his shipmates sacrificed. Rear Adm. John Fuller, commander of the Navy’s Pearl Harbor base, spoke of America’s gratitude. A chaplain read a Navy poem about having served the final watch.

Then the admiral handed Jessica the urn and escorted her down a ramp to a dive platform.

As she walked, she remembered spending summers at her grandfather’s home on Greenwich Bay. He was still a methodical Navy kind of guy, always doing a task in his workshop or yard, then going on to the next task.

She thought, too, of her dad, Ray Haerry Jr., a retired engineer who had hoped to carry the urn on this trip but had taken ill. He’d spent much time with his father at the West View Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in West Warwick, where Haerry Sr. died last Sept. 27, and his wife, Evelyn, died a few months after. Jessica felt her dad was with her in spirit.

Then she was on the platform, Navy divers next to it in the water. She bent down to hand one the urn.

The diver saluted her, took it and backed away, holding the urn high.

The plan was to place the urn in an open gun turret, where it would settle to the bottom of the Arizona. The sky was cloudy, with wind rippling the water.

Jessica could see markers where other ships had been hit. The tragedy of that day, and her grandfather’s death, struck her.

She began to weep.

She heard a gunshot salute, and the divers slowly submerged. The last thing Jessica saw were two hands holding her grandfather’s urn.

Then, 76 years after Ray Haerry survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, he slipped beneath the surface, joining his fellow sailors in eternal rest.

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