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Family never gave up on finding sailor's remains at Pearl Harbor; now he'll get proper funeral

Gene Costill, a former mayor of Clayton, New Jersey, and World War II veteran, with photos of his brother, Harold Costill, who died during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

LORI M. NICHOLS, SJN/TNS

By BILL DUHART | NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J. | Published: September 8, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — Gene Costill was 14 when his brother Harold was killed in 1941 during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This week, he will finally have a chance to bury Harold in his hometown of Clayton, New Jersey, during a long-awaited funeral.

“This is a great thing for the family that there is closure from this catastrophe,” Costill, 93, said Thursday.

Harold Costill's remains were recently identified after being exhumed from a military grave in Hawaii. It came largely through the efforts of Joan Burke, his sister, who was born eight years after his death and died three years before his remains were found.

A memorial service will be held on Sept. 14 at Clayton High School. A burial, with full military honors, will follow at nearby Cedar Green Cemetery.

Harold, 18, was a fireman 3rd class aboard the USS West Virginia on Dec. 7, 1941. He died in the engine room of the battleship, as it slowly sank to the bottom of a shallow bay.

It was the same vessel where Doris “Dorie” Miller, a cook, manned an anti-aircraft gun he hadn’t been trained on and fought back against attacking fighter bombers. Miller was the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross, a distinguished combat medal.

Miller survived that day. Costill did not.

“My mother and my sister Joan had the greatest faith I ever knew,” Costill said. “The two of them absolutely knew what we are doing on Sept. 14 was going to happen. They never knew when, they never knew where, but they never gave up hope.”

Local officials say they are filled with pride and sorrow.

“It’s going to be a lot of mixed emotion, but Harold’s finally coming home,” Clayton Mayor Tom Bianco said.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew said he planned to do “everything humanly possible” to attend the funeral.

“It an amazing story,” Van Drew said Thursday. “It shows the power of endurance when a family just does not give up, cares so much and loves so much that they finally prevail.”

Harold will be buried in the family grave site near his grandfather, who was wounded as a Union soldier in the Civil War.

Gene Costill, a retired DuPont paint factory supervisor, served in the Coast Guard during World War II. When he returned, he served five terms as mayor of Clayton.

©2019 NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.
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