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Event held at memorial for USS San Francisco to remember crew's ultimate sacrifice

Bay Area honoring fallen US servicemembers for Memorial Day weekend
Bay Area honoring fallen US servicemembers for Memorial Day weekend 03:18

As the nation prepares to honor its fallen service members on Memorial Day, on Sunday morning in San Francisco, there was a gathering to remember the ultimate sacrifice made by the crew of the WWII ship named for the City. 

It is a history still being written more than 80 years later.

The mournful sound of bagpipes once again led the nation's colors to the memorial for the USS San Francisco at Land's End. The cruiser's torn bridge wings are on display, with holes ripped in them from the shelling the ship took in the brutal Battle of Guadalcanal.  

It was Nov. 14, 1942, and a Japanese armada was heading to bombard a group of Marines trying to hold onto an important airbase.

"And the USS San Francisco, in lead of a group, steamed into the middle in what was nothing less than a suicide run," said John McKnight, President of the USS SF Memorial Foundation. "But they knew they had to do it in order to save the Marines. And that's the story we remember."

But within that were other stories, as well. Like that of Chief Warrant Officer Paul McKinley. He flew as a backseater in an amphibious, two-wing scout plane aboard the ship.

He joined the Navy in 1937 and was just about to get out of the service when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

"And so he was not released out of his four-year contract and served the next four years on an 'extended tour of duty' is what they called it," said McKinley's granddaughter Ann Bianco.

McKinley's family travelled from Idaho to be at the ceremony, offering copies of a book about his wartime experiences entitled, "Cruiser Scout, recollections of war in the Pacific."

McKinley was on the USS San Francisco when it emerged undamaged from the Pearl Harbor attacks and then seemed to move from one major battle to another.

"Well, Midway. They were on their way to Midway and they found out that it had gone down how it had," said Bianco. "So, they reverted course and did not go to Midway. So, he did escape that one. But then, that was just preceding Guadalcanal. So, he was, yeah — He was out there."

McKinley's scout plane had been sent away from the ship prior to the bloody battle that killed 103 men including her captain and admiral. But the plane was used afterwards to track the crippled Japanese ships and rescue American sailors from the sea. Still, most of it was never talked about until McKinley's family convinced him to put his memories down on paper before his death in 1996.

"I don't think the bravery and heroism of these men and women can accurately be understood without hearing it from their own words," said another granddaughter, Heather Rice. "It changed the war, what the people on, especially the USS San Francisco, were able to do. And that has changed the outcome of our country. And I think we lose that because we're so in the present, here and now.  It is very important to remember what happened." 

So, now a new chapter has been added to the story of the USS San Francisco. And, as those who sailed on her pass on, it will be up to the generations that follow to decide what will be remembered and what will fade into the thin air of history.

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