PITTSBURG — It is amazing how a simple wooden plaque can spark an interest.
When we first began restoring the museum, a Navy Mothers plaque placed in an obsolete area, had a story behind it that continues to intrigue visitors today.
This Thursday, December 7, marks the 76th Anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Did you know there were 37 confirmed pairs or trios of brothers assigned to the USS Arizona? Of these 77 men, 62 were killed and 23 sets of brothers died. The ships only father and son pair was also killed in action. Only one full set of brothers survived.
How is this relevant to Crawford County?
Brothers, Galen and Keith Velia from North Grand Street in Pittsburg, Kansas, were both assigned to the USS Arizona in 1941. Galen's rate was a Signalman Third Class. His duties included; stand signal watch on bridge, identify flags, use blinker, searchlight and semaphore, use range finder, searchlights, and signal apparatus.
While Pearl Harbor was being bombed, Galen was aboard the USS Arizona. However, Keith had been on shore leave. During the chaos, Keith didn’t know if his brother was alive or not. Keith knowing Galen was their mothers favorite, immediately sent word back home saying Galen was okay until he knew for certain the outcome. In fact, the local paper first reported that it had been Keith lost in action, not Galen! After Galen was declared killed in action, the paper corrected the error, and the town grieved the death of the young petty officer. Galen would have just turned 20 on December 24, 1941.
While trying to find out more about Galens personal history, I came across a blog from C.L. Blancett. Ms. Blancett moved back to Pittsburg and currently volunteers in the Genealogy Society at the Pittsburg Public Library.
In the early 1980s, I took my parents to Hawaii for vacation. We went to the Arizona Memorial and I walked with my Mom to the Wall. We stood there silently, and I heard her say, “There he is.” And I asked, “who Mom?” She replied, “the first boy I ever kissed.” It was Galen Velia. She went on to tell me about how he and his brother, Keith, were on stationed on the Arizona. His brother, Keith had shore leave on December 7th, so was not on the ship during the attack and survived. Later, they discovered Galen was lost. Years later, after my Mom had Alzheimer’s, I was looking through her jewelry box at the junk jewelry that I use to play with as a kid, and found a pin, ‘Remember Pearl Harbor’ with a pearl attached to the front of it. I know she wore that in remembrance of Galen, and his brother Keith. I later found out that at least one of Galen’s siblings had Alzheimer’s, and couldn’t remember Pearl Harbor. I donated the pin to the USS Arizona Memorial in honor of Galen, so others may honor him in our memories as well.
SM3c Velia received the following awards posthumously: Purple Heart, American Defense Service Medal w/Fleet Clasp, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/Star, and the WWII Victory Medal.
Remember Pearl Harbor!
— Amanda Minton is the director of the Crawford County Historical Museum, as well as a lecturer of history at Pittsburg State University.