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USS Oklahoma sailor from Tennessee to be buried in Maryland Featured

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USS Oklahoma sailor from Tennessee to be buried in Maryland US Navy Outreach

Seaman 1st Class William Brooks, a USS Oklahoma sailor, from Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, who died during the December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor, will be buried at 11 a.m. on July 16, in Glen Haven Memorial Park, Glen Burnie, Maryland.

On Tuesday he will be flown into BWI Airport at 830 pm, then escorted to Singleton Funeral Home in Glen Burnie, where there will be a Dignified Transfer Ceremony. The family, who lives in Glen Burnie area, has invited the public to be part of the ceremony. After he is placed in the funeral home chapel, the public has been invited in to pay their respects.

In 1941, Seaman First Class was the third-lowest enlisted rank in the United States Navy, above Seaman Apprentice and Seaman 2nd Class, after which Sailors would be assigned to their unique operational specialty. Duties included knowledge of naval drill duties, knots, steering and signaling, standing watches and gunnery duties.

Information below provided by Lt. Cmdr. Jory Morr, POW/MIA Branch Head, Navy Casualty Office.

"Prior to the 2015 disinterment, which marked the beginning of Project Oklahoma, 388 service members were unaccounted for. Since then, 355 have been individually identified.

Scientists at Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) labs in Joint Base Pearl Harbor- Hickam, Hawaii, and Offutt Air Force Base, Omaha, Nebraska, identify past-conflict Sailors. Remains are identified using DNA reference samples from USS Oklahoma families; DoD now has more than 84 of required samples to support DNA analysis on Oklahoma remains as well as many medical and dental records from the Oklahoma service members.

The DNA profiling process begins with a sample of an individual’s DNA, typically called a “reference sample.” During Project Oklahoma, The Navy reached out to families via letters and phone calls requesting their participation in the Family Reference Sample Program in efforts to possibly make a positive match, and identify their loved one lost on the USS Oklahoma.

It is the policy of the Navy to notify the primary next of kin whenever there is a decision that impacts the remains of their family members.

Once DPAA identifies a Sailor, the Navy Casualty Office makes the official notification to the PADD. Following the notification a Navy Casualty case worker is assigned to the family to coordinate a formal briefing to discuss the identification, their wishes for disposition options. A Casualty Assistance Calls Officer (CACO) and Navy Casualty case worker conduct a Family visit/briefing with the family via various methods (Virtual, telephonically or in-person) and explain all entitlements, processes and assist with the final disposition of the remains.

CACOs are assigned according to the location of the Person Authorized to Direct Disposition (PADD).

Following the family visit/briefing, it is the CACO’s responsibility to assist the family with burial coordination. The family is given the choice to either have the Sailor re-interred at NMCP, or choose an alternate location, such as a veterans’, private family site, or Arlington National Cemetery. Navy Mortuary, a branch within Navy Casualty, will coordinate the movement of remains, which typically arrive a couple days prior to the burial.

The Navy pays for funeral expenses, family travel and lodging for up to three blood family members to the Service member. All funding/entitlements are handled and processed by the Navy Casualty office. Entitlements include casket, remains transportation, funeral home expenses and cemetery expenses. The Navy provides full Funeral honors (rifle salute, burial team and TAPS) details.

Briefing Families, I often hear, “we did not believe he was dead”, “probably he was not onboard the ship”, “maybe one day he would walk through the door”. Being able to recover and identify the remains of Sailors aid in closure for the Families and it is especially important to the Navy to Honor these Sailors who paid the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives for our Country

Most often the notification and identification briefing is emotional, overwhelming and relieving all at the same time for the Families. Most Families cannot believe their loved ones were recovered after so many years, they prayed or hoped to have closure someday."

About the USS Oklahoma's sinking, crew, and history

The USS Oklahoma was among almost half of the U.S. Pacific Fleet -- consisting of 150 vessels -- lay at anchor at Naval Base Pearl Harbor Hawaii that Sunday morning when attacked by air forces of the Japanese Empire. Moored in Battleship Row beside the USS Maryland, the Oklahoma was among the first vessels hit.

The ship, under the command of Capt. Howard D. Bode, was actually supposed to be out to sea patrolling the Hawaiian Islands, but along with the other eight battleships at Pearl Harbor, the Oklahoma crew was advised there was to be an admiral's inspection Monday.

When the attack began just before 8 a.m. Sunday morning, many of the crew were sleeping in their racks below decks and never made it up to the main deck.

At approximately 7:55 a.m. the first wave of Japanese aircraft struck the Oklahoma with three aerial torpedoes.

The U.S.S. Oklahoma began capsizing as the Japanese planes strafed the deck with machine gun fire. After being struck by six more torpedoes, the Oklahoma’s port side was torn open and within 15 minutes of the fist torpedo strike, she had rolled completely over, trapping those crewmembers not fortunate enough to escape within her hull.

Lieutenant Junior Grade (Chaplain) Aloysius Schmitt was conducting church call when battle stations sounded. His assigned position was below decks at a medical station where he could tend to wounded sailors. He could have made it to safety, but he was assisting junior sailors scrambling to safety when the ship rolled over. Schmitt, who would be posthumously awarded the Silver Star, would become the first military Chaplin killed in WW II. For their efforts in saving their fellow Sailors, Ensign Francis C. Flaherty and Seaman 1st Class James R. Ward would receive posthumous Medals of Honor. Chief Warrant Officer John A. Austin, who perished saving his shipmates’ lives, would be awarded the Navy Cross.

Men trapped inside started banging on the bulkhead trying to get the attention of passing small boats. On the December 8 and 9, after cutting holes in the exposed bottom of the ship, 32 men were pulled out alive. Banging continued through Dec. 10, but nothing could be done. The sound was coming from below the water line and the helpless Sailors standing watch over the Oklahoma could only wait and listen until the banging stopped. In total, 429 U.S.S. Oklahoma Sailors lost their lives

The U.S.S. Oklahoma would receive one battle star for her service in World War II.

When the ship was righted in 1944, 429 Sailors’ remains would be recovered. Of these, only 35 were able to be identified. The remains of 388 unidentified Sailors and Marines were first interred as “unknowns” in two cemeteries. All were disinterred in 1947, in an unsuccessful attempt to identify more personnel.

In 1950, all unidentified remains from Oklahoma were buried in 61 caskets in 45 graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as “Punchbowl.”

In April 2015, the Department of Defense, as part of a policy change that established threshold criteria for disinterment of unknowns, announced that the unidentified remains of the crewmembers of Oklahoma would be exhumed for DNA analysis, with the goal of returning identified remains to their families.

The process began in June 2015, when four graves (two individual and two group graves) were disinterred. Identifications have been made by scientists of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Once identifications are made, the Navy Casualty Office, located at Navy Personnel Command in Millington, Tennessee takes control of the process, notifying and visiting with the families, coordinating the return of their loved ones and providing escorts and honors details for the reinternments.

December 2017: 100 Sailors had been identified.

February 26, 2019: The 200th Unknown Oklahoma Sailor was identified.

January 28, 2021: The 300th unknown (a member of the US Marine detachment) was identified.

Salvage efforts at Pearl Harbor concentrated on the least damaged ships first, the Oklahoma and Utah were the last ships to receive serious attention.

Salvage of the U.S.S. Oklahoma began in March 1943. She was the most difficult and largest of the Pearl Harbor salvage jobs. Preparations for righting the hull took eight months to complete.

During the Oklahoma salvage, divers made 1,848 dives involving 10,279 man hours under pressure.

Air was pumped into interior chambers and improvised airlocks built into the ship, forcing 20,000 tons of water out of the ship through the torpedo holes.

Four thousand, five hundred tons of soil were deposited in front of her bow to prevent sliding and two barges were posted on either end of the ship to control the ship's rising.

Twenty-one derricks were attached to the upturned hull; each carried high-tensile steel cables that were connected to hydraulic winching machines ashore. The operation began on March 8, and was completed by June 16,1943.

Teams of naval specialists then entered the ship to remove any additional human remains.

Cofferdams were then placed around the hull to allow basic repairs so the ship could be refloated. The Oklahoma was eventually floated using 20 10,000 gallon-per-minute pumps during an 11-hour period on November 3, 1943.

December 28, 1943: Oklahoma towed into dry dock, repaired enough to make her watertight.

USS Oklahoma was decommissioned in September 1944 and sold to Moore Drydock Co. of Oakland, Ca., for $46,127. In May 1947, two tugs, Hercules and Monarch, began towing the Oklahoma to California.

May 17, 1944: The tugs entered a storm more than 500 miles from Hawaii. Hercules put her searchlight on the former battleship, revealing that she had begun listing heavily. After radioing Pearl Harbor, both tugs were instructed to turn around and head back to port. Without warning, Hercules was pulled back past Monarch, which was being dragged backwards at 15 knots (17 mph). Oklahoma had begun to sink straight down, causing water to swamp the sterns of both tugs. To save themselves, the crews released her and let her.

The Oklahoma's plunge to the bottom of the Pacific was recorded at 1:40 a.m., but her exact location is unknown.

The ship’s wheel and a section of her deck are now on display at the Oklahoma Historical Society Museum. The anchor is located in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Inscribed on its base: “Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty.”

Dec. 7, 2021: In a ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP), the 33 Sailors who could not be identified by DNA were laid to rest with full military honors. In attendance were families of both unidentified and identified Sailors, as well as Hawaii Governor Ige, USS Oklahoma survivor David Russell, and members of both Navy and DPAA leadership.

Presiding over the ceremony was the Honorable Carlos Del Toro, Secretary of the Navy.

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