LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The funeral for a recently identified Kentucky sailor who was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 76 years ago is bringing his family together for the first time in decades.
Fred Crowder said he and his brother are visiting their uncle’s home in Louisville and meeting their Kentucky cousins for the first time as the family comes together to honor the memory of Navy Fireman 1st Class Samuel Crowder, whose remains were recently identified with DNA.
Crowder’s remains will be interred Saturday at Resthaven Memorial Park in Louisville beside his mother. The 35-year-old was among 429 crewmen on the USS Oklahoma who died when the battleship was hit with torpedoes and capsized Dec. 7, 1941.
Most of the crew’s remains couldn’t be identified at the time. They had been buried in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu before being disinterred in 2015 in an effort to make identifications.
Fred Crowder, of Tigard, Oregon, said he grew up in Aberdeen, Washington, where his grandfather, Samuel’s father, moved after he and Samuel’s mother divorced. Crowder said his father was a younger half-brother to the sailor.
He said he found out he had half-cousins in Kentucky after including his uncle’s name on a family tree posted on the internet. He said that led to an email exchange and phone calls that have continued since then.
“We found this out back in 2000 and this is the first time we’ve met, right now,” he said Thursday while visiting with some of those family members in Louisville. “This happening has brought us together.”
He said multiple family members donated DNA two years ago when the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency exhumed nearly 400 sets of remains in the hopes that advances in forensic science could help determine their identities. Those killed when the USS Oklahoma capsized have been classified as missing since World War II.
The military announced on Dec. 1 that it had identified 100 sailors and Marines killed on the USS Oklahoma and said it expects to identify about 80 percent of the battleship’s missing crew members by 2020.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said it had identified Crowder using DNA analysis, which matched family members, dental comparisons and circumstantial evidence.
Fred Crowder said the return of his uncle’s remains on Thursday, and the reunion of family members to honor his sacrifice will bring some closure for them.
“I think it’s more of a relief and a celebration of life,” he said. “Finally, finally he gets to come home, and he’s going to be buried next to his mother … I think that just having this is going to help all our parents rest in peace and finally say ‘Welcome home’ for Samuel.”
Crowder remembers first hearing about his uncle in 1957 when he was 7 years old. His father began reminiscing about his brother during a TV special about the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Fred Crowder said his uncle entered the Navy twice: once in 1924 and again in 1940. In between, he worked as a commercial artist in Louisville. The last time the sailor saw his family was when he took leave for Thanksgiving in 1941. Samuel traveled home to Kentucky to see his mother, then to Washington to visit his father.
The sailor’s niece, Sharon Crowder Johnson of Lexington, said Samuel bought some silver for his mother, her grandmother, the last time he was on leave and her family still uses it on holidays and special occasions to honor his memory.
He left an imprint on his family in other ways, too.
Fred Crowder said he had to join the Navy in 1969, but decided to stay in for 31 years to honor his uncle’s service and sacrifice. He too was stationed at Pearl Harbor and visited the gravesite where his uncle’s name was listed on the Tablets of the Missing.
Now, the military says, a rosette will be placed next to Crowder’s name on the memorial to show that he’s no longer missing — he’s home.