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World War II veteran’s remains coming home this week

U.S. Marine Sgt. Katie Maynard salutes as a casket is lowered during a funeral ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., on Oct. 24. (Cpl. Mondo Lescaud, U.S. Marine Corps, WikiCommons)

After 78 years of his remains being unidentified, Corbin native and World War II veteran Ulis Claude Steely is coming home this week to his hometown.

A memorial service will be held for Ullis at 11 a.m. Saturday at Grace on the Hill Church in Corbin. Immediately following the memorial service, the funeral procession will travel to Corinth Cemetery where Ulis will be buried with full military honors by his headstone that was placed in his memory in 1942.

Steely’s remains will arrive in Corbin on Thursday around 5:45 p.m. Corbin City Mayor, Susie Razmus is inviting the public to meet in front of Corbin City Hall saying via Facebook, “we’d love to have our community out in force to usher him home.”

City officials will pass out small American flags to those who attend on Thursday. American flags will line Main Street, and the Corbin Police and Fire Departments will be assisting in bringing the sailor home.

Originally thought to be lost forever, Steely’s remains were identified and accounted for by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) on Oct. 15, 2018.

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Steely, 25, was one of 429 crewmen — 415 sailors and 14 Marines — that died on the USS Oklahoma during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Dean and Lorrie Steely, of Lucerne Valley, California, said their grandfather applied for enlistment on July 11, 1934 just five days before his 18th birthday. On August 14, 1938, he extended his enlistment another two years, and in August 1940 he extended his enlistment by four more years.

Ulis left behind a wife and two young sons.

“It was a bittersweet experience, discovering that our grandfather would finally be coming home, however, the harsh reality of the story the documents told us is that Ulis was a 25-year-old man, who dedicated his life to serving in the Navy, which he had chosen to make his career,” they said in an email. “His records reveal a loyal American who desired to attend Annapolis, but ultimately gave his life serving his country.”

From December 1941 through June 1944, Navy personnel recovered remains from the USS Oklahoma, interring them in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries in Hawaii.

After World War II ended, the United States government created the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS). In September, 1947 the ARGS disinterred the USS Oklahoma remains from the two cemeteries and transferred to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks. At that time, 35 men were originally identified. Subsequently, the American Graves Registration Services then buried the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl in Honolulu, Hawaii.

In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as non-recoverable, including Steely.

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In 1950, after determining that no other identifications could be made, the ARGS placed the remains associated with the USS Oklahoma in 62 caskets and buried as Unknowns in 46 plots at the Punchbowl.

In 2003, a single casket was disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific and was taken to what was then known as the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii. Staff at the laboratory were able to determine that the remains in the casket came from more than 100 individuals.

In 2008, the laboratory was able to make its first identification from the remains of the single casket. Five sailors from that casket were identified between 2008 and 2010.

In 2012, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command put forth a proposal to disinter the remaining 61 caskets from the National Cemetery of the Pacific. In 2015, Department of Defense officials issued the orders allowing a phased disinterment of the remaining USS Oklahoma caskets.

Since then, more than 200 of the USS Oklahoma’s crewmen have been identified. Steely is one of five Kentucky natives whose remains have been identified so far.

The others are:

Seaman 1st Class Millard Burk, Jr., 19, of Shelby Gap, Kentucky

Chief Pharmacist’s Mate James T. Cheshire, 40, of New Hope, Kentucky

Fireman 1st Class Billy J. Johnson, 22, of Caney, Kentucky

Ensign Lewis B. Pride, 23, of Madisonville, Kentucky

To identify Steely’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 72,674 still unaccounted for from World War II, of which approximately 30,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable.

Steely’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.

Gov. Matt Bevin’s office said he would order flags lowered to half-staff in Steely’s honor on Saturday, the date of his funeral.

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© 2019 The Sentinel Echo