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Previously Unidentified Pearl Harbor Sailor Returned Home to Kansas After Nearly 78 Years
Story by PO2 Justin Pacheco on 09/25/2019
Nearly 78 years after he died in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941, Navy Seaman 2nd Class Wilbur Clayton Barrett was finally laid to rest in his hometown of El Dorado, Kansas, September 14.
Three-hundred and eighty Sailors and Marines, most unidentified, were lost aboard the Nevada-class battleship USS Oklahoma (BB-37) in the attack. For several years after the USS Oklahoma capsized, Navy personnel worked to recover remains but only 35 individuals were identified. The rest were classified as non-recoverable and later interred on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. In 2015, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) personnel exhumed the USS Oklahoma unknown Sailors for analysis, and, one-by-one, the remains were identified using advanced technology and DNA samples provided by the families of the deceased.
“He just came to Pearl Harbor to do a good job as a sailor, just like all of us do, and he fought, and fought hard,” littoral combat ship USS Wichita (LCS 13) Command Mass Chief Ryan King said at Thursday’s homecoming celebration. “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.”
Early Thursday afternoon, decades after the battleship he was stationed on sank in World War II, Barrett’s remains were flown into Wichita’s Eisenhower National Airport in preparation for his burial in El Dorado.
Barrett left Kansas for the first time in 1940 to enlist in the U.S. Navy. He served on the USS Oklahoma until December 7, 1941, the day the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii killed more than 2,400 Americans.
“Talking to Seaman Barrett’s family, I also 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 before shipping to Hawaii back in 1940. They had the time of their lives, blew all their money, planned to get married after his tour on board the Oklahoma. His plans were tragically cut short, so it was bittersweet, but the impression it left on his family was that he got to experience love.”
“Sailors all service members, they deserve the same honors.” said King. “And Seaman Barrett deserved his honors.”