By Karen Zautyk
The other day, zipping through the TV channels in search of anything other than mewling political losers, commercials for MyPillow/prescription drugs/non-stick frying pans, and interminable weather forecasts warning of the disastrous 1-inch of snow we might get, I came across coverage of what was obviously a military funeral.
It was an impressive formal ceremony taking place at Arlington National Cemetery. There was no commentary. The only sounds were the solemn cadence of the drums in the cortege, the clip-clop of horses’ hooves, the soft “left, right, left” commands to the honor guard, and the rifles firing the 21-gun salute.
Later, a military band played “America,” and a lone piper, “Amazing Grace.”
There was also the formal folding of the flag that covered the casket and the presentation of it to the family by an officer on bended knee.
But who was being honored here?
Answer: U.S. Navy Fireman 3rd Class John H. Lindsley, 22, of Waukegan, Ill., who died aboard the USS Oklahoma during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. He was one of the 429 casualties on that ship, which capsized after sustaining “multiple torpedo hits.”
I learned that the funeral I was watching on C-SPAN 3 had been held this past October. And I learned later how it came to be after 75 years.
It was primarily due to the ongoing efforts of the federal Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), which defines its mission as this: “To provide the fullest possible accounting of missing military personnel [tens and tens and tens of thousands] to their families and the nation.”
Regarding Pearl Harbor, and specifically the USS Oklahoma, the agency website notes: “From December 1941 to June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased [Oklahoma] crew, which were subsequently interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries [in Hawaii].
“In September 1947, tasked with recovering and identifying fallen U.S. personnel in the Pacific Theater, members of the American Graves Registration Service disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks. The laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identifications of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma at that time.”
The rest of the remains were then reburied, this time at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, and in 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as “non-recoverable.”
In 2015, the Defense Department issued a policy memorandum directing the disinterment of unknowns, including those associated with the USS Oklahoma, and DPAA personnel began exhuming them for laboratory analysis — which now included advanced DNA techniques. In October of this year, the remains of John H. Lindsley were at long last identified. The family was contacted and arrangements for the funeral were made.
The agency issues press releases for every MIA after his remains are recovered and identified, and their individual stories can be found on its website: www.dpaa.mil.
The most recent was just last Friday, Dec. 9: Army Cpl. David T. Nordin Jr., 23, of Los Angeles, missing in action in Korea in November 1950 and eventually reported to have died in a POW camp two months later. He will now be buried in Washington State, with full military honors, this Friday.
Another is Army Air Force 1st Lt. Ben B. Barnes, 23, of Miller, S.D., who was shot down over Germany on Dec. 5, 1944, and who was finally buried in his hometown this Oct. 15. The wreck site, only tentatively identified in 1953, was excavated last year, and the pilot’s remains were found.
Barnes and Lindsley had been among the more 70,000 American MIAs from World War II. “At the war’s end,” the DPAA notes, “American casualties remained unaccounted for around the globe, some where they had fallen, some in the depths of the oceans, and many in temporary cemeteries scattered throughout the world where battles occurred.”
Now, more of them — and the MIAs from other conflicts — are coming home. At www.dpaa.mil, you will find a multitude of their individual stories — as well as information on how to contact the agency.
You may also find sorrow. But, inspiration, too. And hopefully a renewed sense of patriotism and gratitude to those who died in the service of this country and its ideals.