Sailor’s remains returned home to W.Va. after 81 years

Published: May. 15, 2023 at 2:56 PM EDT
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MINGO COUNTY, W.Va. (WVVA) - A Pearl Harbor sailor’s remains are finally returning home to West Virginia after more than 80 years. That sailor’s name is Donald Robert McCloud.

Originally born in Wayne, West Virginia on November 18, 1920, McCloud’s hometown was Monaville in Logan County.

McCloud enlisted in the Navy on April 12, 1938. He was stationed on the USS Oklahoma (BB 37), and his rank was Fire Controlman 2nd Class (FC2) which means his job was to inspect, maintain, and repair fire control instruments along with operating rangefinders and optical fire control equipment, repairing electrical circuits, and manning fire control stations in action.

McCloud has been honored with several awards and decorations over the years including the Purple Heart Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, Amercian Defense Service Medal (with Fleet Clasp), Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with Bronze Star), World War II Victory Medal, and the American Campaign Medal.

According to the State Captain of the W.Va. Patriot Guard, they will be escorting McCloud home on Thursday. He will be arriving at 5:30 p.m. and travel I-70 east to I-77 south. He is set to arrive in Mingo County at around 8 p.m. He will be buried at 1 p.m. on Saturday in the McCloud Family Cemetery at East Fork of Twelve Pole Creek in Mingo County, W.Va.

According to the information from Capt. Robert McMahon, Director of the Navy Casualty Office, prior to the 2015 disinterment, the beginning of Project Oklahoma, 388 service members were unaccounted for, and since then 356 have been individually identified.

The process that these identifications are made through is called “reference sampling,” where the scientists at Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) labs use DNA samples from family members of missing servicemen. The DNA samples were obtained during Project Oklahoma when the Navy reached out to families through letters and phone calls requesting participation in the Family Reference Sample Program in efforts to possibly make a match and identify loved ones who were lost on the USS Oklahoma.

The Navy also tries to support the families of the fallen sailors by paying for funeral expenses, family travel and lodging. All of the funding/entitlements are handled and processed by the Navy Casualty Office. Entitlements include casket, remains transport, funeral home expenses, and cemetery expenses, and the Navy provides full Funeral honors which include rifle salute, burial team, and TAPS.

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The USS Oklahoma was among almost half of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, consisting of 150 vessels, lay at anchor at Naval Base Pearl Harbor Hawaii on Sunday, December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked through air forces. The USS Oklahoma was one of the first vessels hit in the attack as it was moored in Battleship Row beside the USS Maryland.

The USS Oklahoma was struck with three aerial torpedoes, and it began capsizing as the Japanese sprayed the deck with machine gun fire. The ship rolled over completely after Oklahoma’s port side was torn open due to being struck by six more torpedoes, and those crewmembers still on board had no chance for escape.

The ship was righted in 1944, and 429 Sailors’ remains were recovered; however, only 35 of those recovered were able to be identified. Those 388 unidentified Sailors and Marines were interred as “unknowns” in two cemeteries, but all were disinterred in an unsuccessful attempt to identify more personnel.

In 1950, all unidentified remains from Oklahoma were buried in 61 caskets in 45 graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as “Punchbowl.”

In April 2015, the Department of Defense, as part of a policy change that established threshold criteria for disinterment of unknowns, announced that the unidentified remains of the crewmembers of Oklahoma would be exhumed for DNA analysis, with the goal of returning identified remains to their families.

After the USS Oklahoma’s decommission in September 1944. In May 1947, two tugboats were towing her to Oakland, California, but she never made it as the tugs entered a storm where the Oklahoma began sinking straight down to the bottom of the Pacific. Her plunge is recorded to have been at 1:40 a.m., but her exact location is unknown.

The ship’s wheel and a section of her deck are now on display at the Oklahoma Historical Society Museum. The anchor is located in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Inscribed on its base: “Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty.”

The USS Oklahoma would receive one battle star for her service in World War II.