Vestal was also there, now anew
At the Pentagon on December 7, 2016, the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, an old warrior was wheeled in to the auditorium, and honored for the first time since the 1950s.
The 14,000-ton Naval Auxiliary Service collier Vestal was christened in 1908 and later was redisignated a repair ship in the Navy proper becoming USS Vestal (AR-4).
Vestal deployed “Over There” in 1918, serving in Queenstown, Ireland with the U.S. fleet during World War I then made her way to the Pacific where she was moored at berth F 7, off Ford Island, to provide services to USS Arizona during the battlewagon’s scheduled period of tender upkeep when the Japanese planes came buzzing into the harbor on that infamous Sunday morning.
Hit by two Japanese bombs of her own, Vestal was nearly pulverized by Arizona‘s magazine explosion. Listing, ablaze and heavily damaged, the old repair ship saved herself and her skipper, Commander Cassin Young, later came away with the MOH for his actions.
Her mooring quay is still a place of honor at Pearl to this day.
Remarkably, Vestal survived and went on to conduct forward repairs in the war zones of the South Pacific, keeping the battleships South Dakota and Washington; carriers Saratoga and Enterprise; cruisers Minneapolis, St. Louis, HMNZS Achilles, HMAS Hobart, San Francisco, and Pensacola among others in the fight and afloat at desperate times when their loss would have been a great blow to the war effort.
Decommissioned and stricken, she was sold to breakers and disappeared in 1950.
The Navy recently reacquired the bell and gave it a well-needed makeover before it’s big day this week.
“Tenacious accretions had accumulated on the bell’s exterior, along with dust, dirt, and environmental pollution,” said David Krop, conservation branch head at NHHC’s Collection Management Facility in Richmond, Virginia. “Additionally, we detected lead paint on the bell’s clapper assembly and old polish residue clinging to the bell’s lettering.”
Using a variety of mechanical and chemical methods, Krop’s team was able to get the bell to a stable and presentable condition after about two weeks, in time for the ceremony.
“As we cleaned and conserved the bell,” said Karl Knauer, a conservator on Krop’s team, “its past reflected back to us through its marred surface. It was truly an honor to work on such an important touchstone to the Navy’s history.”