Chris Schulz Published

Life Preserver From USS West Virginia Donated To WVU

A glass display case mounted to a white wall shows a white life preserver with a decorative rope on a navy blue backing. Red writing on the life preserver reads "U.S.S. W.VA. 1st DIV. FIRE AND RESCUE". Inside the life preserver can be seen an image of the USS West Virginia.
The West Virginia and Regional History Center at WVU Libraries is home to a historic life preserver from the USS West Virginia thanks to a donation from the Kendrick family.
WVU Photo/Sean McNamara

Each Dec. 7, communities across the country commemorate the attack on Pearl Harbor. This year, the ceremony at West Virginia University will integrate a new piece of history.

A life preserver from aboard the USS West Virginia, which was sunk during the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, was recently donated to West Virginia University by the Kendrick family.

Lori Hostuttler, director of the West Virginia and Regional History Center at WVU libraries said the life preserver is a powerful symbol. 

“When I first saw it, my first thought was, ‘Did somebody cling to this? Did it save somebody’s life during that attack?’” she said. “It’s a very somber artifact, but it also can symbolize resilience of Americans and West Virginians.”

Hostuttler said the piece was first pulled from the waters of the harbor by Charles House Morgan, Jr. who was serving at Pearl Harbor with his father, Charles House Morgan, Sr. She said Jr. saw the life preserver as an item “to commemorate those who were killed in that attack that day and as a remembrance of the horrible tragedy that he had witnessed.”

“I think it’s emblematic of West Virginians’ service to the military,” Hostuttler said. “West Virginians have always come to the aid of the United States and served when there was a conflict.” 

The USS West Virginia was restored and returned to service after the attack. Its mast and bell are now permanently installed outside of Oglebay Hall on WVU’s Morgantown campus. 

“It was a student-led effort to bring that to the campus in the early 1960s,” Hostuttler said.

The university’s annual remembrance ceremony will be held by the mast Thursday morning, and the life preserver will be on display in the downtown library.

“We definitely like to honor our service members, and anything that can allow the military or service members to be in the spotlight at WVU, we love to have that happen,” said Penny Lipscomb, interim director of the Center for Veteran, Military and Family Programs.

The ceremony will include members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Foreign Legion, Earl Anderson Marine Corps league detachment as well as ROTC cadets and guest speaker Secretary of State Mac Warner. The Daughters of the American Revolution also lay a wreath in memory of the fallen soldiers.

“We gather for this tradition, it’s been happening since the 1970s, where we go out and we stand in front of the mast to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to our country,” Lipscomb said.