USS Arizona member and USS Oklahoma crew interments set for Dec. 7
HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — Eighty years after their service and sacrifice on Dec. 7, 1941, final respects will be paid to a former USS Arizona member and multiple USS Oklahoma crew with a pair of interments and full military honors planned for the Pearl Harbor defenders on the big anniversary of the day that will live in infamy for America.
For the families of 85 Arizona crew buried as “unknowns “ at Punchbowl cemetery, meanwhile, hope is being rekindled that they — like their USS Oklahoma shipmates — can someday be disinterred for identification.
Harvey Milhorn, a gunner’s mate on the Arizona who survived the fireball that engulfed the ship and who died in 2002 at age 80, will be interred back on his sunken battleship in a 4 :30 p.m. sunset ceremony on Dec. 7, the Navy said.
At the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, which is known as Punchbowl, the final group remains of USS Oklahoma crew who couldn’t be identified through an unprecedented six-year Defense Department effort will be reburied at 11 :30 a.m. in a single casket, according to the Honolulu veterans cemetery.
The 80th-anniversary National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day — a major milestone in history and for its dwindling survivors who are now around a century old — will be held on the Navy base’s Kilo Pier with the relentlessness of COVID-19 still a concern.
The observation, organized by the National Park Service and Navy, will take place at 7 :45 a.m.
“Seating at Kilo Pier will be by invitation only for the health and safety of attending veterans; however, the NPS at Pearl Harbor National Memorial will be live-streaming the ceremony from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center lawn,“ the Park Service said in a recent release.
Public seating at the visitor center will be determined via recreation.gov lottery. Information on how and when to register for the lottery will be forthcoming, the park service said.
Due to COVID-19, no World War II veterans were on hand for last year’s also partly virtual Dec. 7 remembrance at the visitor center’s Contemplation Circle.
The last time a USS Arizona crew member was interred back on the ship was Dec. 7, 2019. Army divers gave a unique World War II-style sendoff to Lauren Bruner, who escaped a fiery death aboard the Arizona by climbing hand over hand across a rope 70 feet above Pearl Harbor to the safety of the adjacent repair ship USS Vestal. Bruner died in September 2019 at age 98.
The divers donned vintage Mark 5 hard hats, lead boots and drysuits to walk across the deck of the sunken battleship and descend 22 feet into gun turret 4 to carefully place Bruner’s ashes in one of the deepest spots in the wreck.
Bruner was the 44th and last crew member expected to be interred on the battleship memorial, which is still a grave for over 900 men. Then a family member of Milhorn’s came forward with her grandfather’s wish to be returned to the battleship.
Navy Region Hawaii Historian Jim Neuman said Milhorn was in one of the aft machine gun mounts on the Arizona. A total of 1,177 men died after a Japanese aerial bomb pierced its bow, igniting gunpowder for the battleship’s big guns.
“He was wounded in the attack and ended up swimming over to Ford Island, and it sounds like he might have been in one of the houses recovering a little bit. Then he went onto the (battleship) Tennessee shortly thereafter and continued to fight on the Tennessee, “ Neuman said.
Neuman added that Milhorn “was just a very quiet guy and just didn’t talk much about his (Pearl Harbor) experience.”
Park Service spokeswoman Emily Pruett said the way she understands it, Milhorn “had filled out the request for interment on the ship and never told anyone, and when his family, well after he passed away, they were getting ready to sell the family home, they came across the paperwork expressing his wishes.”
At Punchbowl, meanwhile, some number of USS Oklahoma casualties who were buried as “unknowns“ at the cemetery will be reinterred after the Defense Department approved the unprecedented step in 2015 of exhuming all 388 crew members for possible identification. Some of the 429 casualties had been identified previously.
As of Sept. 30, 40 Oklahoma sailors remained unaccounted for, with seven pending identification, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which is responsible for investigating, recovering and identifying missing American war dead. Advances in science, particularly DNA, helped prompt the project.
The agency will close out the six-year effort with the group reburial for those who could not be identified. Gene Maestas, a Punchbowl spokes man, said the reinterment will take place at 11 :30 a.m. Dec. 7 at the cemetery.
Finally, some families of 85 USS Arizona crew members buried as unknowns at Punchbowl who have been pushing for disinterment and identification have made progress in Congress as they seek to return their loved ones home.
Cassandra Sebastian, a spokeswoman for Colorado U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, said Lamborn was able to secure a congressional directive requiring DPAA to take steps toward possible disinterment of the USS Arizona unknowns.
DPAA said language “directs the secretary of the Navy to submit a report to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on the feasibility and cost associated with identifying the 85 unknowns.”
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