Duke Harbertson always seemed to have luck on his side, even when the heavy cruiser USS Northampton was blown out from under him during the battle for Guadalcanal.
"When World War II started, we had been out playing war games and an 8-inch rope line got tangled in our screws," said Ray M. "Duke" Harbertson.The Northampton was stranded about 100 miles from Pearl Harbor the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the day Japanese carrier-based aircraft sank most of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet except Harbertson's ship, of course, and the U.S. carriers, which eventually turned the tide in favor of the Allies.
Harbertson is among numerous veterans of WWII who hope Utahns will remember the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor a year from now, as well as other historical dates of the war.
With that in mind, the Utah State Historical Society has established a Utah World War II Commemoration Committee.
The state agency is asking groups such as Harbertson's Survivors of the Northampton and Survivors of Pearl Harbor to help them plan commemorative activities, running from 1991 through September 1995, the 50th anniversary of Japan's surrender.
"We're looking at tours, lectures, museum exhibits, conferences sponsored by Brigham Young University and the University of Utah, and a book by the Utah State University Press called `Utah Remembers World War II,' " said society spokesman Kent Powell.
"We have a number of activities, but so will other groups. It might be to our advantage if we meet together and supplement each other," said Powell. "We're looking at a four-year commemoration. We'll wrap it up in 1995."
"I think it would be great," said Harbertson, who survived the Dec. 1, 1942, sinking of the Northampton during a nighttime sea battle to prevent Japanese ships from resupplying their forces on Guadalcanal.
"We were at point-blank range from the Japanese. We were firing those guns just as fast as we could. It was quite a sight," he said.
The Northampton was among four cruisers torpedoed during the battle. But it was the only one that could not be saved, said Harbertson. He said 28 crew members died and the rest were picked up by a destroyer.
Harbertson also was assigned to the battleship USS Iowa when it carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the February 1945 Yalta Conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
"We saw them all," said Harbertson, who also escaped death aboard the Iowa when he had just traded gunnery positions with another man and an enemy shell killed the second gunner.
Don E. Bush, now a state representative from Clearfield, has given Powell a copy of his World War II book for the commemoration and hopes to do more for the cause.
"I was 19 and was the oldest of five Navy radio operators and five signalmen who would go ashore with the first invasion wave" during five battles in the Pacific, Bush said.
"We were just kind of on our own. We'd set up communications to bring supplies and troops in and get everything unloaded. If we didn't hang together, we've have been in trouble," he recalled.
After landings on Saipan and Tinian in the Mariana Islands and three more major assaults on the Philippines, Bush's attack transport USS Cavalier was torpedoed.
By the time it was towed back to Hawaii, four months later, the Cavalier, and Bush, were out of the war.
"All 10 came back" from World War II, he said. But Bush was the only one called back to active duty to serve in the Korean War.
"I know how these people are feeling, being called up for Saudi Arabia," said the retired contractor.
The Hill Air Force Base Museum, with its B-17 Flying Fortress and B-29 Super Fortress, plus several other World War II-era aircraft, will play a major role in the commemoration, said Powell.
And Glenn H. Parkin, of North Salt Lake, historian for the Survivors of Pearl Harbor, said his group should be able to provide stories and documents for the commemoration, plus memorabilia.
Utah members of the group still get together once a month for lunch or a potluck dinner, he said, and were scheduled to meet in Salt Lake's Memory Grove Friday to honor their comrades killed at Pearl Harbor.