On Feb. 7, 2020, seven Sailors from Navy Medical Readiness and Training Command Pearl Harbor and 13 family members of deceased World War II veteran, Richard Laubert gathered to witness the scattering of his ashes from the USS Utah Memorial. The family and Sailors assembled in commemoration of his life and service to the U.S. Navy. Richard passed away on Sept. 1, 2019 at 99 years old.
79 years ago, Richard enlisted into the United States Navy as an Apprentice Seaman, trained at the U.S. Naval Hospital Corpsman School in San Diego, and relocated to U.S. Naval Hospital Pearl Harbor that same year. Richard served at the Pearl Harbor Hospital from June 1941 till December 1944.
Apprentice 2nd Class Richard Laubert witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor firsthand. He first heard a loud bang from behind his barracks. Running out to investigate, he saw smoke billowing up from Ford Island. Walking to the naval hospital, he watched the bombers attack Pearl Harbor. Richard served in the burn unit of the hospital without ceasing for three days.
Before passing, Richard recounted this memory of the attack. In a 2016 article from KOLOTV he shared, “Most of that was as clear as it was yesterday. I can see everything happening all over again. Then that day I had to work on one of the worst burn wards. These were patients who couldn’t even hold a straw to drink. We had to hold them, do everything for them, and give them shots before we could work on them. It was just a horrific sight.”
That day in 1941, the Japanese attacked the island, killing more than 2,400 Americans, sinking five battleships, and propelling the United States into World War II. Richard held the memories of that day close to him and returned to the island with his family many times.
“Pearl Harbor meant so many things to dad,” said Rick Laubert, the son of the deceased Richard Laubert. “When he came here and we’d go to the ceremonies on December 7, the one thing he’d remind me of is how proud he was of all the staff members of the hospital that day and all the work they did to save lives.”
Sharing his Pearl Harbor experiences with family and friends didn’t always come easily to Richard. His son Rick and twin daughters Barbara Kaufman and Patty Day remember the point when their father began inviting them into that part of his life.
“He didn’t start opening up to our entire family about his role at Pearl Harbor until we started coming to the December 7th ceremonies and he was able to talk to other survivors,” said Barbara. “That brought a whole new light to his experiences. He was finally willing to share them with his family. For that we are so grateful.”
The conversations Richard had with survivors kept him returning with his wife and children every two years for the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day ceremony.
“He cherished his time sitting and just talking with other survivors,” said Patty. “I think that was something he looked forward to every year; knowing he would find out if somebody he knew might be coming.”
Choosing to scatter his ashes at Pearl Harbor made perfect sense to his family. They knew he would want a piece of him to remain here.
“He loved Hawaii,” said Rick. “We thought honoring him here at Pearl Harbor would be incredibly special for him and I’m sure he’d really appreciate what we were able to do here with the assistance from Mr. Neuman who made this possible for all of us.”
Jim Neuman, Navy Region Hawaii Historian, began the event by sharing the history and importance of the USS Utah with the family. The USS Utah was struck by a Japanese aerial torpedo on Dec. 7, 1941, capsized, and sank. A few years later, her hull was relocated to Ford Island where the memorial now stands.
Following the historical anecdote, Rick proceeded to share favorite memories of his father. Laughs and tears were shared as the family remembered Richard as not only a Navy Sailor but an avid sports fan.
“He loved sports,” recounted Rick. “He loved going to the Dodgers, Rams, and Lakers games. Rain or shine we would go. I think the best part was that he enjoyed it as much as I did.”
The family invited Navy Medical Readiness and Training Command Pearl Harbor Sailors to partake in this intimate experience to show their support for a fellow Hospital Corpsman and Navy Sailor. They lowered the ensign to half mast and paid their respects to the family. Taps were played by a solo bugler and salutes given as the family paused for a moment of silence before scattering a portion of Richard’s ashes in the water from the memorial.
The family departed the memorial together after the event with the exception of the small piece of Richard that will remain at Pearl Harbor.
“It’s etched in him and now part of him will be here forever,” said Patty. “That’s the joy for us to know that he’s some place he really wanted to be. This was a lasting memory to him; his Pearl Harbor experience. And now it will be with him forever.”