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USS Oklahoma sailor gets full military honors burial

Army National Guard Honor Guard officers extend full military honors. [MELODY BURRI/FOR MESSENGER POST MEDIA/TNS]

Despite the passage of 79 years since his death and ongoing concerns about COVID-19, the Defense Department buried Navy Seaman 2nd Class James Monroe Flanagan with full military honors Friday at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

It’s been an ongoing show of respect afforded crew members of the battleship USS Oklahoma who died on Dec. 7, 1941, were buried as “unknowns ” at Punchbowl, and were more recently identified as a result of advances in science and, in particular, DNA.

A total of 429 USS Oklahoma sailors and Marines were killed in the Dec. 7 attack. Some were identified shortly after, but 388 were buried as part of commingled remains in 46 plots at Punchbowl.

Between June and November 2015, the Defense POW /MIA Accounting Agency, which has a big identification lab at Hickam Field, exhumed all of the Oklahoma unknowns for identification.

As of Tuesday, 269 identifications have been made, according to the agency.

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Flanagan, 22, was the second oldest of eight children and grew up on a farm in Georgia before the family moved to Jacksonville, Fla., officials said.

Some families return loved ones to their hometowns for burial, while others elect to have a reburial at Punchbowl with—for the first time—a service member’s name on the grave marker.—A brother now in his 80s who lives in Florida was not able to make the trip, officials said.

But more than two dozen uniformed military members, mostly sailors, were there for Flanagan’s committal ceremony, including Rear Adm. Darius Banaji, deputy director for operations with the accounting agency.

“To me, for DPAA, it’s our way to show our humble sincerity and thanks to the family for their ultimate sacrifice and really to honor James for his sacrifice on Dec. 7, 1941, ” Banaji said.

Seven sailors fired a rifle salute and six more acted as pallbearers, carefully folding the American flag that was draped over Flanagan’s casket. Taps also was played.

All wore masks. Gene Maestas, a cemetery spokesman, said military honors were not provided during Tier 1 COVID-19 restrictions, but that has since eased.

The accounting agency videotaped the service and the view from Punchbowl to send to Flanagan’s brother, who was stationed on Oahu decades ago in the Air Force.

The accounting agency said it continues to identify formerly unknown service members from World War II and the Korean War, with about eight disinterments every two weeks from the Korean conflict.

Sailors who were on the battleships USS California and USS West Virginia also have been disinterred for identification and the agency is preparing to exhume unknowns who perished as prisoners of war on Japanese cargo vessels known as “hellships.”

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(c) 2020 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.