Unknown Sailor

AMM2c Walter Robert Boviall

Sailors Walter Robert Boviall and Edward Wentzlaff planned to open a fishing resort in Wisconsin after their Navy enlistments.

Mr. Wentzlaff’s four-year commitment was scheduled to end on Dec. 7, 1941. Mr. Boviall’s enlistment ended at about the same time, but he had decided to re-up.

But neither man could go anywhere until the their ship, the U.S.S. Arizona, returned to its home port in California. On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, it was at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

They were together on the deck when they heard someone yelling that they were being bombed. They ran forward to the forecastle and saw a plane come in and strafe the deck. They headed to ladders that would take them down into the ship, but Mr. Wentzlaff stopped and went back up. He never again saw the man he described as “the best friend I ever had.”

Mr. Boviall was an aviation machinist’s mate and petty officer second class when he and 1,176 other Sailors and Marines were killed. Mr. Wentzlaff, who held the same job and rank, was one of 337 survivors. It isn’t clear how they met, but it seems likely that it was on the battleship.

Mr. Boviall had expected the Arizona to return to the mainland in late 1941 and that he would be home on leave in Delavan, Wisconsin, by Christmas. But in a letter home shortly before the attack he said that plan was canceled. “I think we have problems with the Japanese,” he wrote.

In his last letter he advised his youngest sister, Lois, who was about eight, to smile. “You are too young and sweet, but try to understand. If I should die and leave you here awhile, be not like others who keep long vigils by the silent dust and weep. Please, for my sake, turn again to life and smile.”

Mr. Boviall was born Aug. 23, 1918, to Robert James Bovial, a farmer, and Leanna Jones Boviall, a homemaker. He graduated from Delavan (Wisconsin) High School in 1937. A 1929 news article mentioned his participation in the wheelbarrow and relay races in the annual “play day” for the four schools in Delavan township. He enlisted on Dec. 2, 1937, because few jobs were available to young men during the Great Depression and because he wanted to see the world.

An undated photo, possibly from 1939, showed Mr. Boviall as a member of the Arizona’s football team. It competed against teams from other ships. In a ceremony in January 1940 before the entire crew of the Arizona, Mr. Boviall was among 32 football players, five boxers,  and six wrestlers awarded letter sweaters.  “The sweaters are of excellent material and workmanship, and have been purchased by Welfare Funds to express the appreciation and esteem in which our athletes are held by the ship’s company,” At ‘Em Arizona, the ship’s newsletter, reported in January 1940. “The recipients will wear them with pride and satisfaction that will increase as the years roll by. If they are careful they may even be able to hand them on to their sons.”

American Legion Post 95 in Delavan added Mr. Boviall’s name to its title in 1946.

His best friend, Mr. Wentzlaff, returned to Minnesota after the war and became a farmer. He died at the age of 95. On Dec. 7, 2013, his family fulfilled his long-time wish to have his remains returned to the Arizona. Navy divers placed an urn with his ashes inside the remains of the ship.

Mr. Boviall’s kid sister, Lois, lived to age 72. In an interview just before the 50th anniversary of her brother’s death, she said she visited a local memorial marker for him three or four times a year. “As the years go by, some things sort of heal,” she told a reporter. “But they are never forgotten.”

Sources: Reporter Anna Marie Lux of the Janesville (Wisconsin) Gazette; reporter David Larsen of the Los Angeles Times; the Freeport (Illinois) Journal-Star; Navy muster rolls; Census; Veterans Administration. Naval History and Heritage Command photo. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.
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