Memorial Day isn’t just another holiday. It’s not about pools opening or backyard barbecues. Memorial Day is a solemn, somber holiday for remembering and honoring those that made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of this country and our freedom.
The day has passed, but it doesn’t mean it’s time to move on and forget about the incredible sacrifices so many service members have made for us. That’s something we should strive to do every day.
In that spirit, I want to tell a small part of the story of one young man recently laid to rest in north Missouri.
Navy Seaman 1st Class Wilbur Francis Newton spent many of his formative years in northwest Missouri. He graduated high school in 1931 and went on to work at the newspaper office in Mound City before joining the Civilian Conservation Corps and later the Works Progress Administration out in California. Then in 1940, Seaman Newton enlisted in the United States Navy, where he found himself assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
That’s where he was stationed on the fateful morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when the Imperial Japanese Navy unleashed a sudden and unprovoked attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor. The attack commenced at 7:48 a.m. By 8 a.m., three torpedoes had struck the USS Oklahoma, and just 12 minutes later, the ship capsized.
More than 400 sailors perished aboard the USS Oklahoma. Some were in the initial attack. Others were trapped, unable to escape the capsized battleship’s hull. Many were mutilated so badly in the attack, their bodies couldn’t be identified at the time. They were buried locally and eventually interred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. It was believed they would never return to the haven of home.
Then, in 2015, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began a new effort to identify the remains of the sailors killed aboard the USS Oklahoma using DNA analysis. More than 300 sailors have been identified under the program, including most recently Seaman 1st Class Wilbur Newton, whose remains were identified last October.
Just this last weekend, Seaman 1st Class Newton was laid to rest near his parents and sisters in Mount Hope Cemetery in Mound City, Missouri. Finally, home after 81 years.
May we never forget his sacrifice and may he rest in peace — home at last.