Newport Daily News/November 2017
‘Journey Home’ tells story of USS Arizona survivor’s posthumous return to Pearl Harbor
By Laura Damon | Newport Daily News Staff writer
Haerry, of West Warwick, was one of 335 survivors out of the 1,512 officers, sailors and Marines of the USS Arizona when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He died in September 2016 at the age of 94 and was one of the last USS Arizona survivors.
A new documentary about his family’s 5,200-mile journey to place his ashes aboard the battleship, honoring Haerry’s final wish, will be shown in a “sneak peek” to Rhode Islanders on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theater, 49 Touro St.
The film, “Journey Home to the USS Arizona,” won’t make its official world premiere until Dec. 3; PBS will air the documentary later this month. The one-hour film is narrated by actor Matthew Broderick.
The event will include speaker David Kohnen, director of the John B. Hattendorf Center for Maritime Historical Research at the Naval War College, and a question-and-answer segment with Haerry’s granddaughter, Jessica Marino, who made the journey to Pearl Harbor with her grandfather’s ashes.
“Journey Home to the USS Arizona” is the 19th documentary film from the South Kingstown-based nonprofit World War II Foundation, produced in cooperation with Tim Gray Media.
When asked how the latest documentary manifested, Tim Gray, a South County native and founder of the World War II Foundation, said Haerry was interviewed for the foundation’s earlier film, “Remember Pearl Harbor.”
That 84-minute film, which premiered last November, is narrated by Tom Selleck and features interviews with more than 35 World War II veterans and Hawaiian citizens.
When Haerry passed away and Gray learned he wanted his ashes returned to the USS Arizona, “we felt as though that would be a very compelling documentary,” he said.
“The interesting thing about Ray is his son tried to get him to go back to Pearl Harbor,” Gray said, but Haerry refused. Nineteen years old at the time of the attack, he carried memories too painful to allow him to return to Honolulu; yet Haerry’s dying wish was to have his ashes returned there.
“That’s where he wanted to spend eternity,” Gray said. “With his shipmates … there’s that bond there that I don’t think people knew.”
The remains of more than 900 sailors killed on Dec. 7, 1941, are still inside the ship. Of those who survived the attack, Haerry was the 42nd who asked to be returned to the ship to be laid to rest. Only five other survivors are still alive.
After Gray earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Rhode Island in 1989, he worked as a television sportscaster for about 15 years. He wanted to create documentaries on World War II and the World War II Foundation was born; he began work on the first documentary in 2006.
Whether in Europe or the Pacific, “we shoot all the films on location,” Gray said. “We film in the places where the actual events took place.”
Gray produces, writes and directs the documentaries. To fund the projects, he fields donations. “You reach out to as many people as you possibly can and hope they have an interest in honoring that generation,” he said. “Nine out of 10 say no but you just hope you come across someone who understands what you’re trying to do.”
Gray has recruited Selleck and Bill Belichick to narrate past films. “I target people who, first of all, I like their voices, and second of all, who have an interest in World War II,” Gray said. All narrators have had some connection to the war or the military. “Most of these guys say yes right away,” he said.
Gray said World War II documentaries help to keep the stories of veterans preserved for future generations. In the next 15 years, all the World War II veterans will likely be gone. Documentaries help ensure there’s a record of what those veterans did “in helping to save the world.”
“They (documentaries) really preserve the legacy of what that generation accomplished,” Gray said. “We are who we are today because of what they did.”
As for the decision to premiere the latest documentary in Newport: “He (Haerry) had ties to Newport after the war,” Gray said. “We wanted to premiere in Newport because after the war Ray taught in Newport,” through the Naval War College.
Gray said Saturday’s event will honor the legacy of the Navy in Newport and Rhode Island.
“It’s not a war film,” Gray said. “It’s a film about a journey, a family’s journey.”
Tickets cost $10. For more information, visit JanePickens.com or call 846-5474.