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Nearly 8 decades later, remains of NJ sailor who died at Pearl Harbor are headed home

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 Trenton man was killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor. After nearly 78 years, his remains are finally coming home.

Navy electrician’s mate 3rd Class William “Billy” Klasing was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, a vessel that after being attacked by a Japanese aircraft on Dec. 7, 1941, quickly capsized. Eighteen-year-old Klasing, along with 429 other crewmen, died on the battleship.

His remains were officially identified on Feb. 4, 2019, after a long process of identifying dozens of men who died on the battleship.

Klasing’s remains were recovered from the USS Oklahoma somewhere between 1941 and 1944 when Navy personnel recovered the bodies of the deceased crew. The servicemen were interred at two Hawaiian cemeteries before being transferred to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks in 1947, where a laboratory staff confirmed the remains of 35 men who were aboard the ship.

The unidentified men were reburied at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu after the unidentifiable soldiers were classified as non-recoverable.

However, in April 2015, the Defense Department directed the disinterment of the unidentified men. In June of that year, personnel began exhuming the remains from the cemetery for DNA analysis.

Klasing’s niece, Linda Rakers of Trenton, said her family was contacted about seven or eight years ago about the serviceman’s remains. In order to help identify them, the Navy needed DNA from Klasing himself or a male relative.

Rakers said because her father had passed away, the closest source of DNA the family could find were letters Klasing sent home, and DNA from male third cousins.

Klasing’s remains were identified by scientists with the Defense Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency who used dental and anthropological analysis paired with circumstantial and material evidence. An Armed Forces Medical Examiner System also used Y-chromosome DNA analysis.

“It’s a CSI moment,” Rakers said.

Klasing was born March 28, 1922, to Theodore and Emma Klasing. According to Moss Funeral Home, which is assisting the family, the family name is “peppered” throughout Trenton history.

Rakers and her sister, Diane Hanft of Freeburg, will join great-niece Jen Kuhl of Trenton and great-great-nephews Mychel, Brady and Carter Kuhl to help welcome Klasing this weekend during a funeral procession and reburial.

Rakers said the return of her uncle’s remains has brought her family together and revealed ties to some family members she hadn’t met before. Relatives of the serviceman are coming from all over the country to welcome his remains home this weekend.

She said she only wishes her father, who was 11-years-old when Billy Rakers died, was still alive to see his brother come home.

“It would have meant a lot more if my father (Robert) had still been living, but my sister and I agree that it’s great that we are finally getting to bring him home,” Rakers said. “It has rekindled a lot of family ties that we didn’t realize we had and that we had as young children but haven’t had any contact with for years.”

Klasing will be honored at 4 p.m. Friday with a procession, beginning off Interstate 64 in New Baden and continuing through Trenton and Aviston and ending at Moss Funeral Home in Breese.

Afterward, the remains will be buried next to his brother, Robert, at Trenton Cemetery at 11 a.m. Saturday with full military honors rendered by the United States Navy.

As for the letters Billy wrote home to his family, Rakers said they’ll be passed down to her daughter and eventually her grandson, keeping memories of their long lost uncle, great uncle and great-great-uncle alive.


© 2019 the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Ill.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.