USS UTAH BB-31 / AG-16
The Forgotten Ship of Pearl Harbor
Captain Walter Roswell Sexton
USNA Grad: 1897
USS Utah Commanding Officer: April 15, 1925 - January 23, 1927
Born September 13, 1876, Walter Roswell Sexton served in the Bureau of Navigation in the Navy Department from 1909 until 1912, when he was assigned as an aide to Rear Adm. Hugo Osterhaus, commander of the Atlantic Fleet, and later that year became flag secretary to the admiral, who was succeeded by Adm. Charles J. Badger.
Promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander, Sexton served as navigator of the North Dakota and commander of the Tallahassee until 1915, when he entered the Naval War College. In 1916, he was given general duty with the Board of the Navy and the following year in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Sexton was assigned to the Cruiser and Transport Force, following which he was assigned as an aide to Vice Adm. William S. Sims, commander of U.S. Naval forces operating in European waters. For that service he was awarded the Navy Cross for Distinguished Service.
Following the war, Sexton was appointed naval attaché at the American Embassy in London and served as senior member of the Anglo-American Arbitration Board. In 1920–1921 he was commanding officer of the USS Frederick, then commanded Mine Squadron Two of the Pacific Fleet. From 1922–1925 he served in Washington, D.C., in the Office of Naval Operations and then as assistant to the Navy Budget Officer.
From 1925–1927, Sexton commanded the USS Utah, and subsequently served for two years in the Office of Naval Operations, before being promoted to rear admiral and assuming command of the Destroyer Squadrons, Scouting Force. In 1931, he was appointed assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations.
Sexton was temporarily promoted to vice admiral in 1933, assuming command of Battleship Division One. An article in the Seattle Times described him thus: “The bachelor-admiral, tall, sparsely built, with thinning gray hair and a trim gray mustache, has the face and hands of an intellectual. It’s a strong face, with rather piercing but kindly eyes…” The following year, he became a member of the General Board, serving for three years. From June 1937 until June 1939, he served as Commander, Destroyers, Battle Force, U.S. Fleet.
Although he reached retirement age in 1940, Sexton obtained permission to remain in active service because of growing emergency in Europe and Asia. On Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, 1941, he was named Chairman of the General Board, serving in that post until August 1942. On Dec. 13, he was among top ranking foreign policy and military advisers summoned to the White House by President Roosevelt.
On Sept. 9, 1943, Sexton — retired for just one year — died at the Navy Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He had served the Navy for nearly 50 of his 67 years. Burial was in Arlington National Cemetery.