Saturday December 8, 2012

VALLEJO, Calif. -- Deep inside one of Mare Island's dry docks, Piotr Orzechowski carefully raised the American flag to half-mast aboard the tugboat Hoga on Friday morning as nearly 40 people watched from above.

Orzechowski, a California Maritime Academy 1st class mechanical engineer, and employees of Mare Island Ship Yard timed their commemoration to coincide with the 71st anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

While the occasion was solemn for all, Orzechowski, an American citizen born in Warsaw, Poland, took particular pride in his role.

"Without the American involvement in World War II, Poland would not exist and I would not have been born," Orzechowski, decked out in his dress blues, said after the ceremony. "That's why I pay tribute to the men and women who served and who currently serve in the American armed services."

The Hoga is one of two remaining vessels still afloat that served in or near Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack. The Hoga, a National Historic Landmark, is being repaired and made seaworthy at the Mare Island Ship Yard, so that it can become a museum ship in North Little Rock, Ark. The other vessel still afloat is the Coast Guard Cutter Taney, which was turned into a museum ship and rests in harbor at Baltimore.

Launched less than a year before the Japanese attack, the Hoga was under way to assist warships within 10 minutes of the first reported assault, Mare Island Ship Yard General Manager Gary Whitney said.


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The tugboat, designed with fire fighting capabilities, is most noted for its help in moving the besieged USS Nevada out of a major channel where it was on fire, stranded and blocking American forces' transit, Whitney said. The tugboat stayed in continuous action for 72 consecutive hours after the first assaults.

Later in its career, the Hoga served four decades as a municipal fireboat for the city of Oakland.

Mare Island Ship Yard program manager Werner Hoyt said only about 70 percent of the Hoga, which had resided in the Suisun Bay Reserve "mothball" Fleet since 1994, was intact when the vessel was towed to Vallejo.

"We're surprised she didn't sink in the fleet," Hoyt said.

The Hoga has been at Mare Island since July, and is likely to continue its stay into the spring, Whitney added.