From the Archives: The Voyage of the Honda Knot

San Francisco’s Fleet Week 2018 officially ends on Monday, October 8, and this footnote to history is foremost in my mind today. 

The Voyage of the Honda Knot

At 11:37 a.m. on October 10, 1947 the United States Army Transport Honda Knot sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and into San Francisco Bay under overcast skies completing the final leg of a journey for her military passengers. 3,012 of those aboard were listed as “passengers (deceased)” for these were the remains of fallen servicemen, many of whom had passed under the Golden Gate Bridge on ships bound for the war in the Pacific.

An escort of 48 fighter planes flew over the vessel before dipping their wings in salute and banking away. The arrival of the Honda Knot officially initiated what one observer called the “most melancholy immigration movement in the history of man.”

5,000 mourners showed up on San Francisco’s Marina Green to pay tribute to the war dead. Dignitaries in the audience included Sixth Army Commandant General Mark Clark,  Secretary of the Navy John L. Sullivan, California Governor Earl Warren and San Francisco Mayor Roger Lapham.

As a measured 21-gun salute marked the beginning of the memorial service a navy launch approached the Honda Knot and presented a seven-foot wreath from President Truman containing leaves of trees from all corners of the country. Church bells rang throughout the city to signal the citizens that a one-minute moment of silence was to be observed.

When the 30 minute ceremony was over the USAT Honda Knot moved to the Oakland Army base where six caskets, representing the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Air Force, and service-attached civilians, were selected to lie in state in the rotunda of San Francisco’s City Hall. Within three days, all 3,028 caskets were on their way to their final resting places, in accordance with the wishes of next of kin.

233,181 American dead were returned home after the end of World War II when Congress passed legislation authorizing repatriation of the bodies. Families were given the choice of burial in the United States or overseas in an American military cemetery.

93,242 men were buried overseas in American cemeteries because the families believed it was more appropriate for their loved ones to remain at rest with comrades near the battlefields where they had died.

The families of 78,976 dead soldiers had no choice of interment; their sons were listed as missing in action and their remains were never recovered.

The entire repatriation and overseas burial program was conducted from 1945 to 1951, at a cost of $200,000,000 in 1945 dollars (several billion today). It was the most extensive reburial program following a foreign war.

The retrieval and burial of American dead from WW II goes on today as  bodies of missing US soldiers are recovered from remote jungles or discovered in European graveyards. All remains are analyzed, relatives sought and found, and then these once lost soldiers are returned to their hometowns or buried in national cemeteries abroad.

“The nation glorifies World War II; it was called the Great Crusade, and we now idolize the men of the Greatest Generation and immortalize the dwindling legions of these heroes constantly in film and in literature. In so doing we have lost touch with the immense pain and suffering caused by the war and the ripples of sorrow that still flow across America from that devastating conflict. We know little of the men who gave their lives and nothing about the struggles of their families.” 
—David P. Colley

Consider this a heartfelt Thank You to those who made the ultimate sacrifice and to the families who carried on in the absence of their loved ones to make this country what it is today.

Rest in Peace

  15 comments for “From the Archives: The Voyage of the Honda Knot

  1. Pan
    October 13, 2017 at 8:21 PM

    If history was taught in school the way you’ve presented this post, perhaps our future generations would start learning to not repeat history over and over as humanity does.. The reality of war is horrific and that dose of reality seems to diminish as years go by.. Just as the wars since have.. Great and moving post..


    • October 14, 2017 at 6:45 AM

      Thank you. It was a moment in time that seems to be lost to everyone but those who were directly affected.


      • Pan
        October 15, 2017 at 12:41 PM

        In my opinion, that’s the reason humanity never learns from the mistakes we keep repeating..


      • October 16, 2017 at 10:28 AM

        We need bigger tables, not higher walls.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Pan
        October 16, 2017 at 1:44 PM

        True and all the people at those tables have to want, the good for all, and not just petty agendas fulfilled.. i don’t believe that’s possible, looking at all the world’s current leaders..

        Liked by 1 person

      • October 16, 2017 at 5:06 PM

        Tomorrow’s another day. Best of luck to all of us!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. October 10, 2017 at 3:26 PM

    Fascinating, Allan, and I agree with you whole-heartedly about honoring those who died. They might be rolling in their graves right now at the levels of animus and incivility in the country they fought for. I think the Founding Fathers are spinning full time at full speed, although they had some pretty wild discussions, too.


    Liked by 2 people

  3. October 10, 2017 at 8:02 AM

    My uncle Jack, my father’s brother, is buried in Manila. I’d not heard of this ship, or this effort. I’m glad to know now.


    • October 10, 2017 at 12:17 PM

      You are welcome. I found out about this by accident one night when I bumped into a stack of scrapbooks that had been placed on a rolling chair in a file room at the bridge. The book on top had newspaper clips of this event and I couldn’t help but stop and read them.


      • Therese
        October 10, 2017 at 11:06 PM

        Thank you for posting this amazing piece of history! Our family just recently learned the story of the Honda Knot through your posting. My mom’s USMC brother gave his life in service to our country at Tarawa, November 20, 1943, and came home on the Honda Knot four years later, He was 21 years old. We knew very little about her brother, only that he’d died on Tarawa and where he is buried. We are grateful to have learned how he came home, and to know that his homecoming was with such Honor.


      • October 11, 2017 at 11:03 AM

        Thank you for your story, Therese, and my condolences to your family.


  4. October 10, 2017 at 5:59 AM

    Allan, “heartfelt” tribute.


    • October 10, 2017 at 12:13 PM

      Thanks, Sally. It’s one of those things that I never thought about until I read about it.


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