Pearl Harbor and the official U.S. entry into the war were still months away when the son of Norbert and Elize Larriviere, a fireman first class, and 10 others were killed aboard the destroyer USS Kearney.
Time magazine reported Oct. 27, 1941, that "on the chilled hell's highway of the north Atlantic, the U.S. last week lost the illusion that it was not engaged in a shooting war. The illusion faded when the U.S.S. Kearny (rhymes with Blarney), a crack destroyer scarcely a year in service, was torpedoed."
The Kearney and three other destroyers had raced north when a Canadian convoy came under submarine attack about 350 miles south of Reykjavik, Iceland. In the late afternoon of Oct. 16, the four destroyers formed a screen around the Canadian merchant ships. The U-boats stayed quiet until, shortly before midnight, one of the cargo ships suddenly went up in a ball of flame. Kearny and the other destroyers rushed to the attack, but the U-boats again backed away.
Minutes passed. Suddenly, two more merchant ships were ripped apart by German torpedoes, and the fight was on again. Near 2 a.m., Kearny had to cut her speed to avoid ramming another ship and became a virtual sitting duck. A torpedo tore a jagged hole in Kearny's starboard side, making her the first U.S. destroyer damaged in World War II.
The ship managed to limp into Iceland for repairs and got underway again on Christmas Day 1941. It would continue to fight until the end of the war, but Sidney Larriviere would not be aboard.
At first it was reported that there were no casualties, but Time magazine told a different story: "Now it is learned that eleven of the Kearny's crew were . . . presumably trapped in a ruptured watertight compartment. Barring a miracle, they were dead. Ten more of the Kearny's crew . . . were injured, two of them seriously. Navy men were not surprised. They had waited with foreboding. They knew that when a torpedo hits a destroyer, somebody usually dies."
President Franklin Roosevelt told the nation, "The shooting has started. And history has recorded who fired the first shot. . . . America has been attacked. The U.S.S. Kearny is not just a navy ship. She belongs to every man, woman and child in this nation."
Rev. John Cooney came from Washington, D.C., to preach the sermon at Larriviere's funeral Mass.
"This youth's death and the others of that ill-fated vessel have not been in vain," he said. "Their spirit speaks to us from their graves, they cry out to us from the stillness of eternity that the night is passing, that men will come to their senses and that God will walk among His people once more. They warn us of the dangers of selfishness and they point to the Stars and Stripes. To keep [it] ever unsullied and not to forget the principles of our founding fathers, for which they fought and died."
He echoed in a way Roosevelt's conclusion to his speech about the Kearney: "Today in the face of this newest and greatest challenge ... we Americans have cleared our decks and taken our battle stations. We stand ready in the defense of our nation and the faith of our fathers to do what God has given us the power to see as our full duty."
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.