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After 7 decades, Woodland Navy man, Pearl Harbor casualty returns home, laid to rest

U.S. Marines and Sailors present the colors during a memorial ceremony at the USS Oklahoma Memorial on Ford Island, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 2018. The ceremony was held for the 77th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and to remember the service members that perished on the USS Oklahoma. (Sgt. Jacqueline A. Clifford/U.S. Marine Corps)

A line of leather-clad motorcyclists stood at attention in front of the Vancouver Funeral Chapel Wednesday morning bearing American flags and saluting. The Patriot Guard Riders were a welcoming committee, of sorts, for Navy musician second class Francis E. Dick of Woodland.

It’s the first time Dick had been back in Washington since joining the crew of the USS Oklahoma in 1940.

“His mother hung on until the age of 99 waiting and hoping for something like this, so it’s really something to have him home,” said Dorothy Fulbright of Longview, Dick’s first cousin.

Fulbright was 6 when Dick and 428 other sailors and Marines died aboard the USS Oklahoma during Japan’s 1941 attack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor.

In the years immediately after the attack, only 41 crew members were identified and buried in marked graves. The remaining crew, including Dick and three other Cowlitz County men, were buried as unknowns at a national cemetery in Honolulu.

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They remained there until 2015, when the Department of Defense approved a project to dig up their caskets and identify them using modern forensic and DNA technology.

“Each day someone is notified (their relative was identified), and it gets them one step closer to coming home,” said Lt. Cmdr. Erica Reid-Dixon, who escorted Dick’s remains from the Nebraska lab where they were identified to his final resting place in the Vancouver Barracks Post Cemetery.

“We can all do our part to bear witness to his sacrifice,” Reid-Dixon said of Dick. “The more we remember, the more we can live our lives to honor that sacrifice.”

Wednesday’s funeral service completes Dick’s homecoming. It’s a moment many of his family members waited their whole lives for, said Carole Green, Dick’s sister and only surviving immediate relative.

“They missed him terrible,” said Green of her relatives. “(Mom) never got over it. There was no closure for her. … Being brought up Christian, I believe they are together now.”

Green, 81, was only 3 years old when Dick died, so she doesn’t remember much about her brother personally. She got to know him through family stories that depicted him as popular, outgoing and upbeat, she said.

He was a skilled violinist, but “in five minutes, he could play (any instrument) he picked up,” Green said.

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The stories about “Ham,” as Dick was nicknamed by his family, were passed down through generations of surviving relatives. Green’s daughter, Kerry Jones, said she, too, learned about her uncle through shared memories.

The funeral service brought those stories to life, Jones said.

“I didn’t know him except in stories from my grandmother, but now I feel like I do know him,” she said after the service.

Her brother, Mike Green, echoed that sentiment.

“I’ve heard stories all my life,” said Green, Dick’s nephew. “When we went to the airport to receive his remains, it’s like it all stopped being stories. It’s real now.”

Almost 50 people attended the funeral service. Although most of the crowd never knew Dick personally, they came to pay their respects to a local hero and honor the memory of all those lost in the attack.

“I didn’t know him, but one of the things you learn in the military is you never leave anyone behind, no matter how long it takes,” said Michael Burton, retired Air Force colonel and co-chair of the Vancouver Community Military Appreciation Committee.

U.S. Navy Chaplain Lt. Shawn Hazel focused the service on remembrance, and the importance of remembering heroes like Dick, who sacrificed their lives for the county.

“Today we get to recognize and honor not only Frances’ sacrifice, but the sacrifice of all those other still unidentified sailors and Marines who are still waiting to be brought home,” Hazel said, reading from the eulogy prepared by Bobby Jones, Kerry Jones’ husband.

Also in the crowd with Dick’s surviving relatives was another descendant of two USS Oklahoma crew members: Dick Artley of Idaho. Artley’s father, nicknamed Swede, was one of the 32 crew members who survived after being cut out of the hull of the ship; his uncle, Daryle, who was also from Woodland, was buried in the unmarked graves along with Francis Dick.

“Ham and my dad were really good friends on the ship,” Artley said at the service. He and his wife, Jennifer, traveled from Idaho to pay their respects to Dick.

“It’s something we thought never would happen, but it’s a long time coming,” said Jennifer Artley. “We just thought that the Artley family should be represented. … It’s too bad (Swede) couldn’t be here to see this.”

Daryle Artley’s remains have yet to be identified, Dick Artley said, but the family is in touch with the forensic lab, and the service Wednesday strengthened their hope that Daryle will get his homecoming, too.

Dick’s service left his younger sister in awe. Carole Green offered her praise for a “wonderful service” and “absolutely awesome” showing of support from friends and strangers alike as they laid her brother to rest.

“I’m glad part of him is back where he belongs, on the mainland. He will be buried (in Vancouver) with his brother John, who was a Lt. Col. in the Air Force,” Green said. “(John) passed away 10 or so years ago. And (John’s) son is buried there too, so all three will be together. That’s kind of nice to think that.”

Reporter Rose Lundy contributed to this report.

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© 2019 The Daily News, Longview, Wash.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.