Who was William Seely?
Groton's William Seely Elementary School was built in 1954 in the western section of town. Designed to answer the need for more school space to cope with the population explosion after World War II, it was handily located adjacent to the town's burgeoning Navy housing projects.
Now, more than half a century later, a newcomer to town might well ask "Who was William Seely? Why was a school named for him?"
William Eugene Seely, born October 8, 1922, was a Groton boy who attended Pleasant Valley School and Robert E. Fitch High School. Those who knew him remembered that he worked after school in a hardware store on Thames Street and went to Sunday School at the Groton Heights Baptist Church. On his 18th birthday in 1940 he enlisted in the United States Navy. He was stationed aboard the battleship USS Arizona.
Fourteen months later, on December 7, 1941, William Seely was among the 1,177 men killed on the Arizona. He was the first Groton resident to give his life in the war. He rests aboard the battleship along with more than 1,100 fellow sailors who lost their lives that day.
He was serving on that vessel when the Japanese, though still negotiating for peace with the White House, carried out a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor without an official declaration of war. More than 350 aircraft from six Japanese aircraft carriers struck the United States Naval Base, hoping to neutralize the United States Pacific fleet, leaving them free to proceed with plans to conquer southeast Asia.
Among the casualties, four United States battleships, including the Arizona, were sunk. The Japanese attack, labeled "a date which will live in infamy" by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, led to our country's involvement in World War II.
After deliberation, it was decided not to salvage the USS Arizona, but to leave the sunken vessel's remains as a memorial to those that died. The site is maintained by the National Park Service. Oil can still be seen rising from the wreckage; it is monitored closely. It was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark May 5, 1989.
In the shrine the names of the fallen are inscribed on a marble wall within the vessel, William Seely's among them. It's a unique memorial which draws one million visitors annually.
Cathy Johnson, a former student at William Seely School, remembers that each year on Dec. 7th her principal, Dick Raymond, made a special announcement explaining the significance of the day and the part William Seely played in defending his country. She was very impressed with the story.
With the changing needs of the town, William Seely is no longer one of Groton's elementary schools but is used by the Parks and Recreational Department for programs, including gymnastics and karate. The Board of Education also uses it for storage.
In this rapidly evolving world, I hope that the name of William Seely and his sacrifice will not be forgotten.