Starring Brooks Winfield of San Rafael, Calif., a Navy radioman 3rd class, was 22 when he was killed aboard the USS Oklahoma on Dec. 7, 1941, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Starring Brooks Winfield of San Rafael, Calif., a Navy radioman 3rd class, was 22 when he was killed aboard the USS Oklahoma on Dec. 7, 1941, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. (Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency)

(Tribune News Service) — Adam Morrill grew up hearing stories about his great uncle, Starring Brooks Winfield, whom his grandmother Joyce Walker called a war hero.

Walker, a longtime Marin resident, talked often about her younger brother, a sailor who was 22 when he was killed aboard the USS Oklahoma on Dec. 7, 1941, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Walker lamented that because he was considered missing in action, his name was absent from the many official monuments memorializing those killed during World War II.

But one long genealogical search later, Winfield, a Navy radioman 3rd class, has been officially identified. Finally, family members will attend his burial, with full military honors, on May 9 at Arlington National Cemetery.

“To me, I kind of knew him. It wasn’t just some name,” said Morrill, 48, who lives in Davis. “It’s hard to be sad because it’s so long ago. But it’s like fulfilling something for my grandmother and bringing him home.”

Morrill was well versed in his family history even before a genealogist working for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) came calling in 2021.

He knew part of his family originally settled in Albany, with one thread of that heritage tied to immigrants from Sweden. Morrill’s great-grandfather, Raymond Winfield, Starring’s father, was died by electrocution in an industrial accident, leaving his wife, Frances Olsen, and her three children fatherless. They eventually moved to Marin.

Walker always spoke highly of her brother. Though two years younger, he skipped grades and they graduated from San Rafael High School at the same time. He played varsity football and basketball, attended College of Marin and married his high school sweetheart, Gailene, in 1941.

He joined the Naval Reserve in September 1940, shipping out from San Diego on the USS Enterprise in April 1941. He was assigned as a radioman on the USS Oklahoma.

During the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Oklahoma quickly capsized, killing 429 crewmen, including Winfield.


The DPAA announced the identification on Tuesday. The identification was made official on June 24, 2019, but the announcement was delayed until the family could receive a full briefing, the agency said. The announcement was timed to correspond with his upcoming military funeral and burial.

The identification effort was decades in the making.

Navy personnel recovered the remains of deceased crew members from 1941 to 1944. The remains were interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu cemeteries in Hawaii.

When the war was over, the American Graves Registration Service, tasked with recovering and identifying casualties in the Pacific theater, disinterred remains from the two cemeteries. The remains were transferred to a laboratory at Schofield Barracks on Oahu, where 35 men were originally identified. The unidentified remains were buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, colloquially known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.

Winfield was among the fallen soldiers classified as “non-recoverable” in October 1949 by a military board.

Efforts to identify the fallen were renewed in 2003, when one of the 46 graves at the Punchbowl were exhumed. In 2015, the remains of all the graves were transferred to the laboratory for review.

Scientists used dental records, anthropological analysis and mitochondrial DNA to analyze and identify Winfield’s remains, the DPAA said. A rosette will be placed next to Winfield’s name, currently recorded in the “courts of the missing,” to indicate he has been accounted for.

Once an identification is made, the case is referred to the service casualty office, which reaches out to the family, said Sean Everette, media relations chief with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Winfield was one of 362 service members identified as part of the USS Oklahoma disinterment and identification project, out of 394 buried as unknowns.

“The success of the USS Oklahoma project, which Petty Officer Winfield was a part of and identified through, has led to countless other identifications and will lead to countless more,” Everette said.


Morrill said his great aunt, Meryl Winfield, was originally contacted in 2017. She died in 2018. Morrill was then identified as the next-of-kin.

Morrill, who grew up in Sleepy Hollow and attended Redwood High School, said the identification process felt bittersweet. He wishes his grandmother, who died in 2011, had lived to see her brother receive the acknowledgement she always felt he deserved.

“There’s a connection I have to him, even though no one today knew or even met him,” Morrill said.

There were some moments of pride in her campaign to earn her brother his deserved recognition. Morrill recalled attending a ceremony at the College of Marin in the 1980s during which Winfield was added to a World War II memorial. He said he remembered, about 10 years ago, when Winfield was added to the Marin veterans memorial at the Civic Center complex in San Rafael.

Sean Stephens, the Marin County veterans services officer, said Winfield was likely added to the memorial during the term of his predecessor, Mort Tallen.

“Bringing our brothers and sisters home is the debt we owe to the service member, their family, and the supportive community,” Stephens said. “It’s often said that it takes 200 service members and civilians to support each servicemember, regardless of whether they return on their own two legs, in a stretcher, in a wheelchair or in a black bag.”

Morrill said he is proud to have known the history of his great uncle’s military sacrifice for his entire life, the official identification notwithstanding. At least now, he said, in the official record books, and codified by the historical markers, Winfield will be aligned with the fallen servicemen who shared his distinction and his fate.

“Family is very important to me; ancestors are very important to me,” he said. “Just knowing the stories and what her brother meant to her can honor her and honor him, finally.”

(c)2024 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)

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