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Sailor who died at Pearl Harbor hailed as hero

"Battleship Row" after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 Dec. 7, 1941. The capsized USS Oklahoma is visible in the foreground, behind her is USS Maryland. USS West Virginia burns on the right.

U.S. NAVY

By DEBBY WOODIN | The Joplin (Mo.) Globe | Published: May 13, 2018

DIAMOND, Mo. (Tribune News Service)— Clifford George Goodwin left Diamond 77 years ago. On Saturday, he finally made it home.

The U.S. Navy seaman died Dec. 7, 1941, aboard the USS Oklahoma in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Like many others who perished there, his remains were interred for years in mass graves as unknown persons. He was listed as missing in action.

He was one of five brothers who served in the war. The four others all made it home alive, though neither his parents nor any of his 11 siblings are still alive.

Nieces, nephews and cousins were among about 200 people who gathered Saturday morning at First Baptist Church to give the fallen sailor a hero’s welcome. This small town of about 900 had only half that population when he left in 1940.

Motorists driving through town Saturday pulled to the side of the road, some getting out of their vehicles and holding their hands over their hearts, as a white Mason-Woodard Mortuary hearse bearing U.S. Navy insignia was escorted by law enforcement vehicles and Patriot Guard motorcycles to the church and later to the Diamond Cemetery.

Each mile of that slow procession helped to stitch closed an open wound that Goodwin’s family suffered for more than seven decades.

His next-oldest brother, Daniel, already was serving on the USS Oklahoma when he invited Goodwin in 1940 to join the U.S. Navy and to see if he could get assigned to the same ship. It was an invitation he regretted the rest of his life.

Daniel Goodwin’s daughter, Donna Goodwin Vance, said her parents then lived off base in Hawaii. On Dec. 6, 1941, the sailors had been out in the ocean on maneuvers, and when they came back to the dock, Clifford Goodwin stayed on the ship instead of going to spend the night at his brother’s house, as he sometimes did.

“The next day, my dad said about 7 a.m., they heard planes going over, and my dad said he knew they weren’t expecting planes in and he knew it was bad. He jumped up and before he could get out of the house, they had already torpedoed ships. He said he walked the docks for days, but he knew he (Clifford) was dead.”

Her father had wanted his little brother to come out and be with him, and Clifford Goodwin wanted that too, Vance said.

“So my dad, his whole life, felt the guilt that he lived and his brother died,” she said. “And we never had a body. So when it became possible to identify the bodies, three of the cousins and me (sic) all gave DNA. About last October, we got the call he had been identified.”

Her father died in 1988, and though the immediate relatives of Clifford Goodwin are gone, too, “We did this for them,” Vance said. It was a family effort to assist the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to identify the remains and to send them back to Diamond. Though she never knew her uncle, “It was closure, and we feel good we did this for them,” she said of the family.

Heather Harris, who works as a historian for that agency, spoke at the funeral service about the ship’s history and the fate of its crew. Only 32 survived the attack; 432 died.

Afterward, through June 1944, the bodies of the crew were recovered from the ship and were buried in mass graves in the Halawa and Nu’uanu cemeteries there.

In 1947, the military began attempting to recover and identify those killed in the Pacific Theater from the graves but, without today’s DNA processes, only were able to identify 35 more of the Oklahoma’s crew.

Remains then were reburied in commingled plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.

In 2015, an effort was renewed to identify those buried in the mass graves using DNA, dental and bone methods and other evidence. So far, 117 like Goodwin have been identified. Now, those who gave all that day on the Oklahoma are being returned for reburial in their hometowns one by one with full military honors.

A second cousin of Goodwin’s, the Rev. Phillip McClendon of Joplin, eulogized him at Saturday’s service.

“Today, a hero has come home,” he told the mourners. “A hero is in our midst. The word hero is for a person who is admired or idolized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities, and we are right in the midst of a hero.”

©2018 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)
Visit The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.) at www.joplinglobe.com
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