Iowa sailor killed at Pearl Harbor laid to rest nearly 78 years later

William Shanahan Jr.


By BETHANY KALMBACH | Quad City Times, Davenport, Iowa | Published: September 5, 2019

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (Tribune News Service) — Nearly 78 years after he was killed in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, William Shanahan Jr.’s remains finally were laid to rest Tuesday in his hometown.

His funeral was held at the same church he was baptized into in 1918 — St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. He was buried next to his parents, William Sr. and Florence Shanahan, at Mount Calvary Cemetery.

The signalman 3rd class for the U.S. Navy, serving aboard the USS Oklahoma, was classified as missing in action following the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. More than 2,400 service members died in the attack. Shanahan was 23 when killed.

The Navy confirmed July 12 that Shanahan’s remains had been identified, and they were received last Friday at the Murdoch Funeral Home in Cedar Rapids.

One of the last memories his only surviving sibling — Mary Lou Shanahan Pierce, 84 — has of her brother is of him leaving for the Navy. Then only 5, she was upset that he’d miss her birthday, which was only a few days away.

Nevertheless, Shanahan Pierce recalled her brother being a “great guy” who stuck up for her, she said.

“We were a really close family,” she said.

Hundreds of relatives, family friends and people wishing to honor Shanahan and his service came Tuesday to his funeral.

Father Ivan Nienhaus, who officiated, said every U.S. citizen owes the Shanahan family “deep gratitude” for the sacrifice he made for his country.

“What inspired William to enlist in the Navy?” Nienhaus asked. “Maybe he saw the inalienable rights of his fellow Americans being threatened in the 1940s. In order to defend and protect life, liberty and happiness of others, he voluntarily surrendered his own freedom to a cause greater than himself.”

Following the funeral, Shanahan was buried with full military honors at Mount Calvary Cemetery. His sister received the burial flag as tears fell down her cheeks.

Lisa Panek, one of Shanahan’s nieces, was the first to receive a call from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in November 2018, though at the time the agency could not conclusively confirm it had identified Shanahan’s remains.

“I sat straight up,” Panek said. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is the call our grandparents waited for over 70 years.’ It didn’t dawn on me until afterward when it hit me like a ton of bricks — I wish my mom had been able to get that phone call.”

Karey Dirks, great-niece to William Shanahan, said that putting him to rest gives relatives who waited so long for this day some sense of closure.

“Finally, after all these years, enough remains have been identified to bury him and lay him to rest next to his parents,” Dirks said.

©2019 Quad City Times, Davenport, Iowa
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