Family of WWII USS Idaho sailor shares history

The U.S. Navy christened the fifth USS Idaho Saturday in Connecticut. The Japanese claimed to have sunk the fourth USS Idaho in WWII; it famously survived the war.

GROTON, Conn. — Dwarfed in the shadow of the United States Navy’s latest Virginia Class submarine, a nationwide crowd gathered plentiful as its connection out west.

The Navy christened the USS Idaho Saturday with water collected from Idaho lakes, including Lake Pend Orielle – the host of the Farragut Naval Training Station. The christened payed honor to Idaho’s long history of supporting the Navy, including the development of nuclear technology to power more than half of the current Navy fleet.

It laid the foundation for heroes to trace their roots back the Gem State.

“He was, but he never thought he was,” Chris Wirdzek said. “it would have been really great if he could have made it.”

Chris’ father – Al Wirdzek – served on the fourth USS Idaho in WWII. He died nearly three years ago; though, his service was one of many strings tied to a state the Californian later made his second home.

Al’s parents met in Idaho where they later married. Al trained at Farragut upon enlistment to the Navy. And, of course, Al sailed under the namesake.

“I can’t get away from Idaho.,” Al’s wife Eilene said. “It just brought all those – I’m emotional – all those feelings back.”

Huddled in the crowd of the christening, Chris and Eilene filled reservations set aside for Al; one of only four living USS Idaho sailors upon the naming of the fifth boat. Al didn’t share much of his service with Chris, just enough to make their reputation known.

“The USS Idaho battleship is a tenacious group of people,” Chris said. “The Japanese claimed to have sank her three times or more. They get patched up, and they were right back in the fight.”

Eilene made a scrap book of old pictures from the war. Some seemingly backwards where bright smiles lit the deck of a ship built to conquer. A ship that, despite axis propaganda, never fell below the sea it sailed.

“When the surrender happened with Japan, they had the surrender signing on the Missouri battleship,” Chris said. “They brought the Idaho in and parked it right next to the Missouri. Kind of as a, ‘I thought you said you sank the Idaho? It’s right there!”

The Navy awarded each member of the USS Idaho crew a certificate to recognize their contribution to history and presence of the surrender: Be it known to those whom it may concern. This is to certify that Al Wirdzek was aboard the USS Idaho in Sagami Wan and Tokyo Bay during the initial phase of the occupation of Japan and the signing of the terms of the Japanese surrender. 

Chris brought a copy of the certificate to Connecticut for the USS Idaho Christening Saturday; it is signed by the captain and first officer.

“Pretty cool,” Chris said.

The USS Idaho is now due a year of sea trials before it’s official commissioning ceremony.


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