PORT ORCHARD, Wash. - Two brothers, Seaman 2nd Class Calvin H. Palmer and Seaman 2nd Class Wilfred D. Palmer, were laid to their final resting places, more than three-quarters of a century after they perished in the attack on Pearl Harbor, during a repatriation ceremony at the Sunset Lane Cemetery, Aug. 9.
With family, friends, veterans, and state representatives in attendance, Naval Base Kitsap’s (NBK) Funerals and Honors Division served as pallbearers while the NBK Honor Guard performed a gun volley and Rear Adm. Eric Ruttenberg, chief engineer for Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, served as one of the guest speakers, Calvin and Wilfred were laid to rest after more than 77 years.
“What in my life might I ever do that would be as consequential as what Wilfred and Calvin have done for us?", said Washington State Representative Jesse Young. "The sacrifice that they have given and the example that they have lived their lives by is truly something we should all strive for. The honor and service that these brothers provided, to put themselves in harm’s way so that my children could be here today, is an example of what has really bound America together.”
Both Palmer brothers were assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB 37), homeported in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when it was torpedoed and sunk in the infamous attack by Japanese aircraft on Dec. 7, 1941. The attack resulted in the death of 429 crew members in total, including the brothers.
“My children have a grandfather that was in Pearl Harbor that day, he served on the [USS] Nevada (BB 36), and as a gunner’s mate, he lived through that engagement,” said Young. “It’s not a far stretch to realize that maybe he survived because of the sacrifice of these two men laying their lives down for all of us.”
Charles F. Burns desperately tried to save the brothers who were stuck in the laundry area when the attacks took place. As the flames got too thick, his efforts were unsuccessful and he was forced to find an area surrounding the ship that was not on fire where he managed to escape and get to shore, according to Helene Jensen, a niece of the brothers and Burns' daughter.
The Palmer brothers were laid to rest next to their good friend Burns, as part of a family plot at the Sunset Lane Cemetery in Port Orchard, Wash.
“My grandpa and Rosie are here today. Their graves are marked with two flags, you can see Rosie and Charlie Burns, who was the husband of my mother and who tried to save them out of the laundry room,” said Jensen. “You can also see the site where my mother will be laid to rest when she passes away, so the family is truly being reunited in many ways.”
The crew of Oklahoma were recovered from the waters of Pearl Harbor between December of 1941 and June of 1944 and placed to rest in Oahu’s Halawa and Nu’uanu cemeteries, listed as unknown remains.
The American Graves Registration Service exhumed the remains of the fallen crewmembers in September of 1947 in hopes of identifying the remains but unfortunately were only able to identify 35 Oklahoma Sailors. The unidentified remains were then transferred to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and in 1949 classified as non-recoverable - included were Calvin and Wilfred.
In June 2015, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began exhuming the remaining USS Oklahoma unknown remains from the cemetery for analysis. Using anthropological analysis, circumstantial and material evidence, and DNA analysis, they were able to identify the Palmer brothers on March 19, 2019.
"Over the last four years, we have gone to great lengths, not only to identify these remains but to bring them home to their families,” said Ruttenberg.
Nearly 400,000 of the 16 million personnel that served during WWII never made it home and more than 72,000 are still unaccounted for.
“This truly is a great nation and it’s wonderful that we’re able to have something like this to show everybody so they can see the sacrifices and have them understand that freedom doesn’t come for free," said Jensen. "It’s not something that happens just because you live here; it takes all of us to continue to make sacrifices. I really appreciate the Navy for stepping in and doing this for my family so that we can finally have closure and bring everybody back home.”