On Dec. 6, 2011, Edward L. Wentzlaff traveled to Hawaii to commemorate the start of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
It was the ninth visit to the USS Arizona Memorial for the Milaca veteran, who said in an interview a day earlier that the trip would be the last while he was living.
“The tenth time, I won’t know it because I’m going to be buried down there,” Wentzlaff said in a 2011 interview in the AARP Bulletin.
Wentzlaff passed away at age 95 on Tuesday, Sept. 10, at St. Cloud Hospital after a courageous battle with cancer. Wentzlaff will be making that tenth and final trip to the USS Arizona in December when his ashes will be interred by divers in a gun turret on the sunken ship during a ceremony Dec. 7, 2013, on what will be the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He will join about 35 other servicemen who have been interred on the ship.
Seventy-two years ago, the 24-year-old from Minnesota stood on the deck of the USS Arizona waiting for church services to begin.
“As I looked up in the forward part towards the naval hospital where the channel goes out to sea, this airplane made a big turn and it had a big red ball on the side. I didn’t say anything at the time, I just looked and the next thing you know … the guy’s machine-gunning us,” Wentzlaff said in a 2011 interview in the AARP Bulletin.
Hundreds of Japanese planes howled out of the sky, so thick they blocked out the sun over Oahu. Bombs and torpedoes rained down. The Arizona was hit by a 1,760-pound bomb that killed 1,177 crewmen. Wentzlaff was one of 335 survivors of the USS Arizona that day and was considered the last Minnesota survivor of the USS Arizona.
Wentzlaff, who was born in Nicollet in 1917, joined the U.S. Navy on Dec. 8, 1937. He was honorably discharged as a chief warrant officer and was a lifetime member of the USS Arizona Society.
He was a lifelong community servant. He was a PTA president, school board member, Watonwan County commissioner and mayor of Butterfield, Minn. He served as commander and lifetime member of VFW Post 9607 in Butterfield and served 46 years on its firing squad. After moving to Milaca, he became a member of the Milaca American Legion and was a grand marshal of the Milaca Parade.
Wentzlaff was known for giving many community talks about his experience on the USS Arizona and enjoyed speaking to school children about military history.