After the attack on Pearl Harbor, James Monroe Flanagan’s family in Jacksonville rarely mentioned his name. It just hurt too much: He was only 22, and he was gone without a trace. Officially he was classified “non-recoverable.”
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese planes torpedoed the USS Oklahoma docked at Ford Island. The battleship quickly capsized.
Seaman Second Class Flanagan and 428 other men from the ship were killed, among the more than 2,400 Americans who died in the attack on Hawaii.
His body, like so many lost that day, could not be identified among those recovered. No one could even be sure if his were among the hundreds of remains from the Oklahoma crew that were later buried in the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, known as the Punchbowl.
“On the rare occasions when his name would come up in the family, you always got a sense of great loss,” said his niece, Kathleen Mayberry. “It was such a sudden and unexpected loss for a man so young looking forward to his future — and to have that end so suddenly.”
Not knowing where he was only made it worse.
“My grandparents died not knowing what happened,” Mayberry said. “You don’t have remains or a body to bury.”
Almost 80 years later, though, Flanagan has been identified.
That process began in 2015 when members of the military’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency exhumed the unknown remains from the Oklahoma, counting on modern science to finally identify those who had died. They reached out to families, asking for DNA samples to help in the quest.
Last year a match was made with a cousin of Mayberry.
Flanagan’s story echoes that of another Jacksonville sailor killed on the Oklahoma, Herbert Joseph Poindexter. In 2018 Poindexter’s remains were identified and then later brought to his hometown, where he was buried in the National Cemetery.
Mayberry, who grew up in Jacksonville and now lives in Massachusetts, said her uncle spent his childhood on a farm in Lumber City, Ga. His family moved to Herschel Street in Jacksonville around the time he enlisted in the Navy.
He was the second oldest of eight children.
The family didn’t speak much of him, but Mayberry could tell that he had been close to his older brother Hugh and his younger brother Jack, Mayberry’s father.
Mayberry got to know her grandparents, who later lived on Lane Avenue on the Westside, where they kept a garden and chickens. They had been a farm family in Georgia, and that came naturally to them.
“I think the pain remained years after he perished because they presumed after a while that he was definitely gone. I think it was just too difficult a situation,” she said, “and I sensed as a child that these were things you might not want to probe too deeply because the pain was still there.”
Flanagan’s remains will stay in Hawaii. He’s to be reburied Nov. 6 at the Punchbowl, where his name has long been memorialized on the Walls of the Missing.
The Navy said a rosette will be placed there next to the name of James Monroe Flanagan to show that he, finally, has been found.
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