Veterans

May 9, 2018
 

Sailor who died at Pearl Harbor to be buried in Kansas

AP

ASHLAND, Kansas–The city of Ashland in southwest Kansas is preparing to welcome home a native son who died while serving in the Navy more than 76 years ago.

Navy Seaman 1st Class Willard Aldridge died aboard the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He was among 429 sailors who went down with the ship that day.

DNA evidence allowed the military to identify many of the remains in recent years, many of whom were buried in mass graves. Aldridge’s relatives provided DNA in 2015 and later were contacted that a match was found. Local high school honors students plan to meet the plane carrying his remains to Dodge City. They, the Patriot Guards and members of the VFW will provide an escort to Ashland, accompanied by a six-person Navy Honor Guard.

After a processional from the Schilling Funeral Home, Aldridge will be buried May 26 with full military honors at Highland Cemetery in Ashland, where his parents and other family members are buried, The Wichita Eagle reported.

Seaman Aldridge was born Aug. 26, 1921, at a family farm, north of Sitka, as the sixth of 10 children of John and Zola Irene Aldridge. All of his immediate family has died and his closest relatives are nephews. The local VFW post No. 7770 in Ashland was named after Aldridge and his brother, William, (who died in 2006) was the State Commander of the VFW from 1964 to 1965.

“For me, this is history,” said Ray Sumners, a nephew, who spent 31 years serving in the military. “I was so young when this happened.”

He said the Aldridge family rarely spoke about Willard.

“Back in those days, people didn’t talk about those things,” he said. “My mom has a memory case pin that has a big pearl on it that has written on it `Remember Pearl Harbor.’ They were farming people and farm people talk about hogs and the price of grain. You are lucky if you get them to say that.”

Sumners said that from Dec. 9, 1941, through June 1944, the Navy recovered the remains of the dead from Pearl Harbor and buried them in two military cemeteries in Honolulu simply as the “unknowns.”

In 2003, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command disinterred a single casket that contained the partial remains of about 100 crew members from the USS Oklahoma.

Aldridge enlisted in the Navy at Great Bend and during his service earned a Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, American Defense Medal with one battle star, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with one battle star and the World War II Victory medal.




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