In family reunion, local residents meet Pearl Harbor survivor

Eleven descendants of August and Clara Wentzlaff of Sibley County, including several from the local area, went to Milaca, Minn. on May 17 to meet their cousin, Edward Wentzlaff.

Wentzlaff was standing on the deck of the battleship USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941, setting up chairs for a church service when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He was one of only 335 crewmen who survived the attack, while 1,177 sailors were killed. According to an AARP report on Wentzlaff, that is the largest loss of life on any U.S. warship in history.

Of the survivors, it is believed that only about a dozen are still living, and Wentzlaff himself is now 94.

"I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to meet someone like him," said Sharon Shimota, who works at Citizens State Bank in NYA and who organized the family trip.

Wentzlaff has spoken to various groups about his Pearl Harbor experiences for about 50 years, so his story is well known and Shimota did her homework before the trip.

"It was like meeting a rock star," she said of their first meeting.

Pearl Harbor was only the beginning of the war for Wentzlaff, even though his enlistment was due to expire the day after the attack on Dec. 8. He continued serving, and was a crew member of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, which was sunk during the Battle of Midway.

When Wentzlaff passes away he plans to be cremated and interred by divers with his old shipmates in a gun turret on the Arizona, which still contains the bodies of over 1,000 victims of the attack.