West Virginia University will house a lasting reminder of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor in the form of a life preserver from the USS West Virginia, a gift to the West Virginia and Regional History Center at WVU Libraries from the Kendrick family.
The life preserver — donated by WVU alumnus Ken Kendrick, his wife, Randy, and his brother, Rick — will make its public debut following Pearl Harbor remembrance events on campus Dec. 7.
The USS West Virginia battleship was among a handful of ships stationed at Pearl Harbor on the morning of the surprise attack by Japan. The ship was severely damaged and sunk in the ensuing battle, killing 108 men and wounding many more. Yet, the ship was repaired and returned to service in the Pacific Ocean through the end of World War II.
Lori Hostuttler, director of the West Virginia and Regional History Center, noted the life preserver may have saved someone’s life.
“It’s an amazing artifact with a lot of gravity to it,” Hostuttler said. “You really feel that. And it’s a wonderful complement to the other parts of the USS West Virginia that are so symbolic here on the campus. They’re symbols of bravery and resilience that signaled an important new part of American history, beginning when the United States entered the war. We’re very honored to have this artifact and share it with others.”
Hostuttler said a display space is being added in the Center’s conference room, where the life preserver will be accompanied by other USS West Virginia artifacts and images. The public will be invited to the Downtown Library following the annual Pearl Harbor Day ceremony held in front of Oglebay Hall, where the mast and bell from the USS West Virginia are displayed as a memorial.
The event is organized by the WVU Center for Veteran, Military and Family Programs.
“We are honored the Kendrick family has dedicated such an important part of U.S. military history to WVU Libraries,” Penny Lipscomb, interim director of the Center for Veteran, Military and Family Programs, said. “Being able to have the USS West Virginia mast, the life preserver and the Pearl Harbor Day remembrance ceremony on campus allows for us to reflect and honor our service members and their sacrifices.”
At the Kendricks’ request, WVU Libraries agreed to occasionally share the life preserver with regional museums for temporary display for educational purposes. In spring 2024, it will be loaned to the Mercer County War Museum — in Ken and Rick Kendrick’s hometown of Princeton — for school visits.
The Kendricks acquired the life preserver from a museum collection in Washington state and felt it was a powerful piece of Pearl Harbor history that should be shared with others.
“We are proud to contribute to WVU a life preserver that was retrieved from the USS West Virginia during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941,” Ken Kendrick said. “As native West Virginians, we also celebrate the incredible heritage of military service that personifies the values of so many of our fellow Mountaineers.”
Ken Kendrick earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from WVU in 1965 and went on to become one of the world’s leading entrepreneurs. He now serves as managing general partner and principal owner of Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Kendricks are dedicated WVU supporters who have generously contributed to many units and programs across campus, including the WVU John Chambers College of Business and Economics, WVU Athletics, the WVU Eye Institute and more.
The family’s latest donation was made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University.
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