On Memorial Day, Edgar David Gross came home after almost eight decades.
“From this day forward and for generations to come, everybody is going to know where Uncle Ed is, and that’s in Evans Cemetery, next to his father, George,” said Stephen Gross, a photographer at The Anniston Star and Edgar Gross’ great-nephew.
Edgar Gross, born Oct. 25, 1901, in Athens, Ala., was a watertender second-class in the U.S. Naval Reserve, serving aboard the USS Oklahoma. On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, he was tending to the engines of his ship when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
The Oklahoma was hit by nine torpedoes, causing the ship to capsize and leading to the deaths of 429 sailors, including Gross.
The remains of many victims couldn’t be identified following the attack, so families never received confirmation that their loved ones were dead. Gross’ wife, Annie Pearl, received a letter saying that she could reasonably assume her husband was dead, but she didn’t live to see his body identified.
In 2011, the Navy began a program to match the DNA of the unknown sailors with their living relatives. That’s when Stephen Gross started receiving calls from the Navy.
The Navy needed three sources of DNA from family members to compare to the remains. After Stephen Gross and two female relatives sent in their DNA samples, they believed Edgar Gross would soon be coming home.
That was in 2011. For years, the Gross family waited to hear back from the Navy, but all they heard about were plans to end the program due to cost.
On Sept. 7, 2018, Stephen Gross finally received a call from the Navy telling him that Edgar Gross’ remains had been identified. DNA testing had been performed on a tooth recovered from a skull. Dental records helped confirm the results, because Gross had two gold teeth.
Uncle Ed would be coming home.
‘They must never be forgotten’
Edgar Gross returned to Alabama on May 24, when his remains were flown into Huntsville International Airport.
Six family members were allowed to come onto the tarmac for the unloading of Gross’ casket. Among them were Stephen Gross and Edgar’s oldest surviving family member, 90-year-old Mae Daly.
Although only six were allowed on the tarmac, at least 60 family members watched from a distance.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Everyone was crying,” said Stephen Gross.
From the airport, the hearse and the family traveled in procession to Athens. Along the interstate, cars stopped and drivers stood and saluted as the procession passed. In town, they were met by throngs of people waving American flags.
On Monday, a Memorial Day program at the event center in Athens included a special tribute to Edgar Gross.
“Their sacrifices must never be forgotten,” said guest speaker Maj. Gen. Jeff Drushal. “After 78 years, Edgar Gross has come home,” he said.
A full military funeral
A standing-room-only crowd gathered at Cherry Grove Baptist Church for the funeral of Edgar Gross. Those who spoke at the service included Sherwin Calendar, 98, who assisted in recovery efforts after the bombing at Pearl Harbor.
Following the funeral, Edgar Gross was interred in Evans Cemetery in Limestone County. The flag-draped casket was taken to the cemetery by a six-horse caisson, accompanied by an honor guard. The two-mile route included a stretch of Gross Road, named for the family.
More than 500 people gathered to see Uncle Edgar reach his final resting place.
“We support our veterans,” said Robert Schrimsher, a member of the local community. “I don’t think the boys get the respect they deserve.”
Another Limestone county resident, Ricky Harrison, called Gross “one of our hometown heroes.”
The full military funeral included a 21-gun salute. In addition, a group of Civil War reenactors from north Alabama fired off seven cannon shots to commemorate Gross’ return.
The group provides an honor guard for those who had ancestors fight in the Civil War, said Dale Fortenberry, a member of the group. Edgar Gross’ great-uncle was captured in the Civil War, Fortenberry said.
The flag covering the coffin was folded and presented to Mae Daly, who as Edgar Gross’ oldest surviving relative is also the last person in the family who personally knew Uncle Ed.
© 2019 The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.)
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