Dozens climbed aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter WHEC-37 on a foggy Wednesday afternoon to commemorate the 81st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Veterans, historians and enthusiasts piled onto the rear deck of the 327-foot-long ship docked in the Inner Harbor to honor its role in the battle.

“It’s up to all of us to make sure that the legacy of this ship’s service and the service of her crew is not forgotten,” said Christopher Rowsom, executive director of Historic Ships of Baltimore, speaking from a podium sandwiched among still-intact equipment.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the ship was operating with other U.S. Navy vessels based in Honolulu when Japan launched a surprise attack a short distance away at Pearl Harbor, Rowsom recounted. As other ships sank under the barrage of Japanese bombing, the Cutter WHEC-37 remained afloat and was credited with saving the Honolulu Power Plant.

Capt. Grahame Dicks, U.S. Navy chief of staff and keynote speaker, gives remarks aboard the historic naval ship, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter WHEC-37, in Baltimore on Dec. 7, 2022. (Paul Newson/Paul Newson)

Throughout the rest of World War II, the ship was awarded four battle stars for service, including one during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. After the war, the ship resumed peacetime Coast Guard duties, including ocean weather patrol, search and rescue, and law enforcement operations.

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By the late 1960s, the other ships from the attack on Pearl Harbor had been decommissioned or transferred to non-military use, and the warship achieved the distinction of ‘The Last Survivor of Pearl Harbor.’ A tugboat from the attack, the USS Hoga, also remains afloat as a museum boat. That ship was loaned to the city of Oakland, California as a fireboat after World War II and decommissioned in 1996.

It was decommissioned in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1986 and donated to Baltimore City to serve as a memorial and museum.

A bagpipe procession by the St. Andrew’s Society of Baltimore marched across the deck holding historical flags, followed by a presentation of colors by members of the University of Maryland ROTC program. Ship staff oversaw the proceedings dressed in period clothing.

As one member of the St. Andrew’s Society of Baltimore read aloud the number of people who died on each ship at Pearl Harbor, another member rang a large silver bell.

“It is the human costs that we must reflect on,” said Capt. Grahame Dicks, chief of staff at Naval District Washington. “And those costs on Dec. 7 were significant. 2,400 Americans dead, almost 1,200 wounded, each with loved ones, friends, family left behind.”

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Phil Converse II, a veteran whose grandfathers both served as career officers in the military, came from Parkville to attend the ceremony. “I always felt an attachment to World War II,” he said.

A reproduction of the issue of The New York Times published the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor was one of his most prized gifts he received as a child, Converse recalled.

“Historic events like that need to be commemorated,” he said. “And when nothing prior to the war necessitated our participation, it’s certainly a day that needs to be recognized.”