The Deepest Honor: Paying Respect to Those Who Fought

Long after the battles are over, the symbols that endure are the graves and memorials that stand to honor those who fought.

On Memorial Day, people pay respect to those to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. Our military cemeteries are decorated end to end with flags and flowers. But for many families and friends of those lost at sea, this day is also a reminder of an ongoing question about the final resting place of their loved ones.

Over the past year, the team on the Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel have been dedicated to finding and documenting shipwrecks from World War II. Thanks to the efficiency of the crew and effectiveness of Petrel’s technology, we’ve discovered more than a dozen World War II warships. From the American fleet these include the USS Indianapolis, USS Cooper, USS Ward, USS Lexington, USS Juneau and USS Helena. We also surveyed nine warships from the Imperial Japanese Navy and one Italian Naval Ship.

See photos and videos of these ships and learn more about RV Petrel’s ongoing mission.

We search for these wrecks because of their historical significance. But the response to each discovery from families of those lost has been humbling. When we hear stories from the survivors or families of those who served or were lost at sea, we are reminded each time why these expeditions matter.

Like many others, I have a personal connection to this history. My family was fortunate that my father returned from his service in the European theater. For thousands of other families this unfortunately was not the case. In documenting the final resting place of so many service members, all of us involved want to keep alive the memory of their dedication, heroism and self-sacrifice.

These missions will continue with the same purpose, but with a deeper understanding that this work is important and makes a difference to thousands of families across the globe.

NH-52362-768x601 The Sullivan brothers on board the USS Juneau, 14 February 1942 From left to right: Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison and George Sullivan Courtesy U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command.