Pearl Harbor sailor laid to rest after 78 years

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Sailors assigned to Naval Operations Support Center, Wichita, render military funeral honors for Seaman 2nd Class Wilbur Clayton Barrett during a funeral, Sept. 14, 2019, in his hometown of El Dorado, Kansas. Barrett was killed aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB-37) during the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In 2015, the Navy exhumed the unidentified remains of 380 Sailors and Marines lost aboard the Oklahoma, to identify them using DNA analysis so they could be returned to their families. (Navy photograph by PO2 Justin R. Pacheco)

Almost 78 years after he died in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, Navy Seaman 2nd Class Wilbur Clayton Barrett was finally laid to rest Saturday in his hometown of El Dorado, Kansas.

Barrett was among 380 Sailors and Marines lost aboard the Nevada-class battleship USS Oklahoma (BB 37) in the attack. Early Thursday afternoon, more than seven decades after his ship sank, Barrett’s remains were flown into Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport. Reserve Sailors from Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC) Wichita conducted planeside honors amid wind and rain, while crewmembers from USS Wichita (LCS 13) attended as part of Wichita Navy Week.

“[Barrett] just came to Pearl Harbor to do a good job as a Sailor, just like all of us do,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Ryan King, USS Wichita command master chief. “He fought, and fought hard. Today we came here to honor his sacrifice, just like we do all of our service members that made the ultimate sacrifice like he did.”

At 25, Barrett left Kansas for the first time in 1940 to enlist in the Navy “to learn a trade,” according to his family. He served on board Oklahoma until the attack on Pearl Harbor killed more than 2,400 Americans. King said Barrett would have started a normal day on board the ship just like any other, until his life and the lives of all Americans changed forever in a few short minutes.

Barrett’s journey finally ended in El Dorado with more than 200 local residents, officials and veterans on hand – dozens of American flags flourishing in a late summer breeze. Barrett’s surviving family attended and shared stories about his last days before reporting to Hawaii, and the letters he wrote home.

“Talking to Seaman Barrett’s family, I learned something wonderful about his life – he was in love,” said Lt. John Stevens, from the Navy Office of Community Outreach. “He wrote letters home, which his family donated to the local museum, and one of which talked about meeting someone in San Francisco. They had the time of their lives, blew all their money, and planned to get married after his tour on board Oklahoma.”

Stevens added Barrett’s relatives are convinced his girlfriend wrote his final letter for him, as the handwriting and structure was different from his others.

“His plans were tragically cut short, so it’s bittersweet, but the impression it left on his family was that he got to experience love,” said Stevens.

“Sailors – all service members – they deserve the same honors,” said King, “and Seaman Barrett deserved his honors.”

Barrett’s repatriation was one of more than 100 events in which Navy units participated Sept. 9-15 during Wichita Navy Week, one of 14 planned by the Navy Office of Community Outreach in 2019. Navy Weeks focus a variety of assets, equipment and personnel on a single city to bring America’s Navy closer to the people it protects.