A long-missing Weaubleau sailor who died aboard the USS Oklahoma battleship during the attack on Pearl Harbor is finally returning home to Missouri on Saturday.
Charles W. Thompson was only 19 years old when nine Japanese torpedoes slammed into his ship, docked along Battleship Row on Dec. 7, 1941. The 583-foot ship rolled onto its side and sank almost upside down.
Desperate rescuers cut holes in the ship's hull to pull out a few lucky survivors.
Thompson, a Navy fireman first class, was not one of them.
In fact, of the 429 men who died aboard the USS Oklahoma, Thompson, a 1939 graduate of Weaubleau High School, was never positively identified among the bodies that were recovered.
His unidentified remains and dozens more from the USS Oklahoma were eventually buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, better known as Punchbowl Cemetery, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.
It took decades for DNA technology to advance far enough to make possible the identifications of the long-buried remains.
"About three years ago I got a phone call from the Navy to make sure we were Charles Thompson's relatives," recalled Corine Bubier-Johnson, 79, of Weaubleau, who was only 3 years old when her uncle Charles died inside the USS Oklahoma.
There was a lot of information needed, DNA samples to obtain from Bubier-Johnson and her brothers, family histories to provide.
"We wanted to do anything we could to find him," she said. "It was sort of stressful because for years we had been told all those remains were unidentifiable."
In March of this year, Bubier-Johnson got the call she had been hoping for. Thanks to her DNA sample, and those of her brothers, Thompson had been positively identified.
And, the Navy was ready to send him back home to Missouri.
On Friday, Thompson's remains will be escorted by dozens of members of the Patriot Guard motorcycle group from the Kansas City airport to Hathaway Peterman Funeral Home in Wheatland, where Thompson's memorial service will be conducted at 9 a.m. Saturday.
From there, Thompson will be buried with full military honors at the small Fairview Butcher Cemetery just outside of Weaubleau. He'll be interred alongside his mother, Rosa Anna Thompson, who died when Thompson was a young child.
"As far as I know, this is the first (DNA-identified) Pear Harbor veteran coming home to Missouri," said Bryan Cook, who'll lead the flag-flying Patriot Guard processions on Friday and Saturday. "It's for honor and respect. This one coming home after almost 80 years is pretty special."
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