Ceremony honors sailors, Marines killed aboard USS San Francisco in World War II battle

Those who served aboard a warship with special significance to the Bay Area were honored Sunday not far from the Golden Gate Bridge.

The USS San Francisco took part in some of the most significant fighting in the Pacific during the World War II battle of Guadalcanal. The fighting killed 100 sailors and 7 Marines in action there in November 1942.

And every year, there’s a ceremony in San Francisco to make sure their sacrifice is honored and never forgotten.

The ceremony took place in USS San Francisco Park at Fort Miley where more than 200 people gathered. Many in the crowd had family members who served on the ship.

"Thank you for being here to make this moment important so that we never forget those from our families, from our nation who went out in the uniform of our country and paid the ultimate sacrifice," said John McKnight, president of the USS San Francisco Memorial Foundation.

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The USS San Francisco was one of the most storied warships used in the fight against Japan.

John L. Williamson was an anti-aircraft gunner and one of the 107 who died. Though Troy Thorup never met his uncle, he traveled from Las Vegas to honor him and others.

"It’s important to me because here’s a person who gave their life at the age of 21 for their country, and I just don’t want them to be forgotten," said Thorup.

Thorup shared a photo of what he says is the only known painting depicting the USS San Francisco during the infamous 1942 November battle.

At this year's service, there was a special posthumous Chair of Honor, Petty Officer Leonard Harmon, the first black man to have a naval ship named in his honor.

He, too, died aboard the USS San Francisco while trying to save the lives of others.

Professor James Armstead read the words of the president as he posthumously awarded Harmon the Navy Cross is 1943.

"He deliberately exposed himself to hostile gunfire in order to protect a shipmate and as a result of this deed was killed in action," said Armstead  

While many here know well the personal pain of losing a loved one in war, there are countless other Americans who don’t.

John McKnight says, regardless, it’s important for everyone to recognize our service members on Memorial Day.

"I hope people go out and enjoy this weekend. I hope they celebrate it. I hope they barbecue," said McKnight. "I hope they have all the foods they love and I hope they take one extra moment to remember that somebody out there gave their life so that we could have the freedoms we enjoy this weekend."