Nearly 78 years after being killed at Pearl Harbor, the body of a Bessemer sailor is home.
The remains of Navy Mess Attendant 1st Class Johnnie Cornelius Laurie, who was 25 when he died, were flown by the U.S. Navy to the Birmingham airport Thursday afternoon. On Friday, his body will be escorted from a Bessemer funeral home to the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo, where he will be buried.
Saturday would have been the seaman’s 103rd birthday.
“He’ll finally get to come back to Alabama, to home,” Laurie’s younger brother, Elmer White, said.
Laurie was born on Oct. 19, 1916 to Annie Laurie (later Annie White) in Bessemer. He joined the Red Mountain Baptist Church at a young age and became very active in the church, eventually leading Sunday school classes. White said Laurie was a very religious man, and White believes Laurie would have gone to college and become a pastor if he would have survived World War II.
Laurie was a graduate of Dunbar High School, where he played basketball and participated in the high jump, his family said. At 22 in 1938, Laurie joined the Navy and served on the USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941. The battleship was attacked by Japanese aircrafts and the Oklahoma capsized after sustaining multiple torpedo strikes. The attack killed 429 crewmen.
According to the Pentagon, from December 1941 to June 1944 Navy personnel worked to recover the remains of the ship’s crewmen. Those remains were then buried at two cemeteries, but disinterred in September 1947 and moved to the Central Identification Laboratory by the staff of the American Graves Registration Service. At the time, the lab was only able to confirm the identities of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma.
The service buried the 46 unidentified remains in plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, also known as the “Punchbowl.” In 1949, a military board classified those unidentified bodies, including Laurie’s, as “non-recoverable.”
Between June and November 2015, the DPAA exhumed the USS Oklahoma Unknowns from the cemetery for analysis, according to the Pentagon’s news release. Scientists from the group used dental and anthropological analysis, along with other evidence and DNA methods, to identify the remains.
“Laurie’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with the others who are missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for,” a news release from the Navy stated.
After his death, Laurie’s mother received a Purple Heart and several other medals in his honor. White said while he was a young child at the time, he remembers when his mom got the news that her first born had been aboard the doomed ship at Pearl Harbor.
“I was just a baby myself,” White said. “(But) when my mama got the telegram he was dead, she just went to the backyard and boo-hooed.”
White said his parents were very proud of Laurie and his military accomplishments. “They were real proud of him,” White said. “He was a real nice fellow.”
Laurie is also survived by his niece Cornelia Ann Scott, nephew Langston Charles White, and many cousins, friends, great nieces and nephews. The graveside service at the Alabama National Cemetery will begin at 11 a.m.
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