Forever returned to Pearl Harbor

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Pacific Historian
Jun 4, 2005
Orange County, CA
RIP SIR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Article - News - Forever returned to Pearl Harbor

A Lake Forest man respectfully disobeys his father's last wishes.
The Orange County Register
LAKE FOREST – The urn had to be small to fit where it was going.

It needed none of the burnished hardwood, brass corners or velvet linings sold to most grieving relatives. No one would ever see it again.

So Ray Guna, 58, of Lake Forest spent his week searching the Internet for a small, simple container to place the last remains of his father.

"Before I put his ashes in there, I held him in my hands and said, 'God rest,' " Guna said. "He always has been, and always will be, my hero."

Guna then drove to the post office and mailed the 7.3 pounds of ashes special delivery – to Pearl Harbor.

Today, a Navy diver will carry that interment urn down into the waters of Pearl Harbor and place it in the No. 4 barbette of the USS Arizona – a ceremony that's been performed 28 times.

The urn will slide through an ammunition chute, down into the bowels of one of the most famous sunken ships in the world. And in that moment, Andrew Guna will be reunited with his shipmates. Finally. After 65 years and two days.

What makes his story so special is not those 65 years.

It's those two days.

The battleship Arizona sank in less than nine minutes on Dec. 7, 1941.

Harley Eppler, 84, of Orange was aboard a repair ship tied to the Arizona when the Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor began about 8 a.m.

"The worst part was the flames everywhere," he said of 21 ships sunk or smoldering, the 320 planes destroyed or grounded, and the more than 2,300 American servicemen killed that morning. "You could smell burning flesh. We'd pull people out of the water, and the skin would just come off their hands and they'd say, 'Grab me again.' "

The bomb that sank the Arizona was a 1,760-pound, armor-piercing projectile that detonated the ship's forward ammunition magazine, killing some 1,000 men instantly.

It struck the bow of the ship where Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Andrew Guna – a five-year veteran of the ship – would've been standing that Sunday morning.

Had he been aboard.

Until the day he died at age 90, Andrew Guna never liked to talk about Pearl Harbor.

"Survivor's guilt," says his son Ray, who occasionally asked about it. "He didn't want to speak about it. He just said, 'I lost a lot of friends.' He left it at that."

Andrew Guna spent 23 years in the Navy. He went on to command two amphibious ships, participated in three beach landings and served on a distant Aleutian Islands outpost during the Cold War before retiring as a lieutenant commander in 1958.

Later, when he retired from a civilian refrigeration job in 1985, he wrote his boss:

"I want no fanfare, no special party, no hoopla, no kind of baloney. I just want to retire."

That was typical. In fact, that's what Andrew Guna wanted for his funeral as well. He asked that his ashes be spread at sea off San Pedro.

The family was prepared to do just that. Until Ray Guna called the USS Arizona Reunion Association to notify them of his dad's death.

After he hung up, Ray Guna decided to talk to the family about altering their father's plans.

It's hard to discuss Pearl Harbor without mention of the USS Arizona.

The battleships USS California and the USS West Virginia sank at their moorings, each losing some 100 men. The USS Oklahoma rolled over, trapping more than 400 men inside, and the USS Utah capsized with more than 50 of its crew.

But the Arizona – it carried 1,177 men to their grave. In minutes. Of the crew of 1,511, only 334 survived.

One of them was the son of an immigrant coal miner, who joined the Navy in 1935 to help feed his seven brothers and sisters. Who lost his mother and a brother to the flu epidemic of 1918. And who saw the Navy as an opportunity during the Great Depression.

He was 26-year-old Andrew Guna.

"He found out in the service he could work hard, study and advance," says Ray Guna. "He could make something of himself."

And that's just what he did. Like clockwork, he advanced.

As a boatswain's mate 1st class, he supervised his own crew on the Arizona. But he saw more opportunity to advance as a master at arms. He was seeking that position when the paperwork came through granting him a 30-day leave to visit his wife and infant daughter in Wilmington, near the Port of Los Angeles.

He said goodbye to his crew, his hammock mates and buddies – the men he'd spent 24 hours a day with for five years – and sailed out of Pearl Harbor for home.

Within 48 hours, they would all be dead.

Two days.

That's what separated Andrew Guna from the fate of his shipmates who died on the USS Arizona 65 years ago today. Their fate haunted him his entire life.

"He used to go to USS Arizona reunions," Ray Guna says, "but never to Hawaii. I think that was too much for him."

Until now.

When Ray Guna called the USS Arizona Reunion Association, he learned that his father's ashes could be interred on the ship – an honor extended only to those 334 survivors who were listed as crew on Dec. 7, 1941.

Only 28 men have done so. And only about 30 remain alive. The more Ray thought about it, the more he felt his father deserved to be back with his shipmates.

"I talked with my mom, my brother and my sister," he says. "And my feeling was, whether he liked it or not, he was a hero. And he deserves to be on that ship and be remembered as a crewman by the people of this country."

They say this is the last big one.

The last big anniversary of Pearl Harbor that the men who survived it can attend in any real number. Which is only fitting for Andrew Guna, who in life would accept no fanfare, no special party, no hoopla, no kind of baloney.

Today he will receive a formal two-bell ceremony with rifle salute and benediction, and a flag will be presented to his widow, Cozette Guna, 89.

The History Channel will be on hand. As will Pearl Harbor survivors from around the nation. As will more than 150 members of the USS Arizona Reunion Association, which now includes friends and relatives of crew members from any era.

"Sometimes you try not to get overwhelmed thinking about it," says Ray Guna, of the serendipity that gave his father, and him, life. "Sometimes I think I have the obligation to live the best I can."

Even if it means giving Andrew Guna – against his wishes – a little fanfare.


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