Sixty-seven years ago was the attack by Imperial Japan on the U.S. Navy fleet docked at Pearl Harbor in what was then the American territory of Hawaii. The bombing devastated the American Navy, killed 2,402 members of the American military and civilians, and led to the direct U.S. involvement in World War II. Franklin Roosevelt, less than a year into his third term as President of the United States, dubbed it “a date which will live in infamy.”
Among those 2,402 was Eldon Wyman of Portland, Oregon. The morning of December 7 he was an ensign aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma. The Oklahoma was a Nevada-class battleship commissioned in 1916. She guarded Allied convoys in European waters during World War I, and twice escorted U.S. President Woodrow Wilson across the Atlantic on journeys to and from France.
The morning of the Japanese attack, the Oklahoma had been moored at Pearl Harbor for one year and one day. It was targeted in the second wave of the attack, hit by four torpedoes and capsized. Over four hundred men died in the sinking of the Oklahoma, including ten from Oregon, but the remains of Eldon Wyman were never identified. He was listed officially as “lost.”
Wyman was twenty-four and unmarried. He left behind his parents, and his sister Kathleen. A college graduate, Kathleen joined the Navy in 1943, earning a commission through WAVES, the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service program initiated by the Navy to attract female officers to serve in supporting roles, thus allowing the men to go off and fight. Kathleen served in the Navy for twenty-two years, retiring a Lieutenant Commander and going on to teach at Wilson High School until 1980. She lived alone, in a house filled with photographs of her brother.
This past September, Kathleen was visited by representatives of the Navy, including someone from the Armed Forces DNA lab. Salvage operations on the Oklahoma had begun in July 1942. The remains of all 429 officers and enlisted men who died in the Pearl Harbor attack were recovered, though many could not be identified. Unknowns were buried together in mass graves in Hawaii’s Punchbowl National Cemetery. Then, in 2004, following on the work of Pearl Harbor survivor Ray Emory, who had spent decades collecting records and evidence relating to the casualties from the attack, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command contacted Kathleen Wyman to solicit a DNA sample. The sample was a perfect match to the remains of an unknown sailor buried in a common plot at Punchbowl. It was Eldon, Kathleen’s little brother.
Kathleen is 94 now. She has lived long enough to see her brother consumed in the fiery onset of a great and horrific war, to serve her country in his honor for over twenty years, and, finally, with a little help from modern science and a military dedicated (in this case, at least) to doing right by its veterans and their families, to attain a measure of closure. After sixty-seven years of wondering, she can finally take some small comfort in knowing where her brother — one of the many reasons to remember Pearl Harbor — will rest from now on.
(Source: Julie Sullivan, The Oregonian, September 4, 2008)