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Seventy-seven years later: A veterans overdue journey coming home

Seventy-seven years later: A veterans overdue journey coming home

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This year’s Aquinas Catholic’s Veterans Day Program was close to the heart of alumni and Advancement Director Deb Svec. Her Great-Uncle Gerald Clayton, of Central City, was killed in action during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Gerry was a Storekeeper, Second Class, in the US Navy on the USS Oklahoma.

Today, news is accessible instantly. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, many families had to wait months for information of their loved ones. There was no easy way to identify the many souls who lost their lives that day. Even when the families were given information, it wasn’t always correct.

Lee and Grace Clayton were first contacted on Dec. 20, 1941, 16 days after the attack, with the news that their son was missing in action. On Jan. 3, 1942, they received another telegram revealing that their son was now reported as a survivor, with apologies of creating unnecessary anxiety. With no word from his son for another month, Lee wrote a letter to Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs in Washington, D.C. Finally, on March 12, 1942, Lee and Grace Clayton received a reply by mail with “… heartfelt sympathy in this deep sorrow and trusting that the knowledge that your son lost his life while upholding the principles of our country, will serve to lighten the loss of his life…” Lee and Grace Clayton waited over three months to learn the truth that their son died during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were 429 souls who lost their lives on the USS Oklahoma after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Gerry among them. Unidentified remains were buried in Hawaii.

The USS Oklahoma Project, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), through a partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, exhumed all of the unknown remains from the USS Oklahoma, and began the lengthy identification process. Gerry’s family was contacted in 2012 to gather DNA for comparison. In September 2018, they were notified that Gerry’s remains were identified and will be brought home.

This past July, 50 family members of the Clayton family who only knew him by his picture, buried Gerald alongside his parents in the Central City Cemetery. The town of Central City lined the road to pay respect for a long ago fallen solider. Gerry was given a full honors burial by the US Navy and the DPPA.

After 77 years, Gerry finally came home and received a hero’s farewell.

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News Editor

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram, Schuyler Sun and The Banner-Press newspapers. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2015.

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