U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told more than 2,000 people gathered at the National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Commemoration ceremony that Dec. 7 holds a special meaning for his family because his grandfather’s younger brother perished aboard the USS Arizona after it was hit by Japanese bombs 78 years ago today.
The website ussarizona.com lists Sam Bohlender. Bernhardt’s mother’s uncle, as one of the 1,177 crew members aboard the Arizona who perished when the battleship sank. The site says Bohlender was 25, from Greeley, Colorado and held the rank of gunner’s mate second class when he died.
Bernhardt was the ceremony’s keynote speaker this morning.
“As sometimes occurs in life we learn a fact or two that rejiggers our view of history and that recently happened to me,” said Bernhardt, whose voice appeared to quiver slightly as he spoke of his relative. “My mother and her cousin shared a few of my Great-Uncle Sam’s letters home to his brother and his sister-in-law.”
In a letter dated Nov. 20, Bohlender said he appreciated the natural beauty of Hawaii but that “he wished to be home at Thanksgiving,” Bernhardt said. “He was hopeful that he would be able to come home for Christmas in 1942 and he was really pleased to learn that a gal he had a crush on was still interested in him. And yet, fate had it that he would never return to Colorado. The USS Arizona is his final resting place.”
Bernhardt, as the 53rd secretary of the Department of Interior, oversees the National Park Service. NPS was tasked with completing a $2.1 repair to the memorial’s loading dock after damage caused a failure of the anchoring system on the floating facility and forced the iconic memorial to be closed to the public for more than a year. The memorial reopened on Sept. 1.
Bernhardt, also a Colorado native, was confirmed as interior secretary in April after being nominated by President Donald Trump.
About 40 World War II veterans attended today’s commemoration on the lawn of the memorial’s visitor center, Navy officials said. Of those, 13 are survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack. Lou Contor, 98, was the only Arizona survivor in attendance.