San Francisco’s Fleet Week 2017 officially ended two days ago 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.