Fallen sailor killed in Pearl Harbor coming home to be laid to rest

Published 10:36 am Monday, July 17, 2023

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A sailor from Barren County, who was killed in the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 and whose remains were unidentified for more than 70 years, will finally return to Kentucky to be laid to rest next weekend.

Seaman 1st Class Elmer Patterson Lawrence, a native of Cave City, was serving aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB-37), when Japanese forces attacked on the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941, later referred to by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as “A day that will live in infamy.”

The ship was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when it was attacked by Japanese aircraft, suffering multiple torpedo hits, which quickly caused it to capsize.  That attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, including Lawrence.

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Over the next three years, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased crew, which were subsequently interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries.

In September 1947, tasked with recovering and identifying fallen U.S. personnel in the Pacific Theater, members of the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks.

The laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identifications of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma due to the technology available at that time. The AGRS subsequently buried the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as non-recoverable, including Lawrence.

In 2015, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency personnel exhumed the USS Oklahoma Unknowns from the Punchbowl for analysis and were able to identify Lawrence’s remains using modern DNA technology.

“We are saddened to acknowledge the death of another young Kentuckian who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor,” said Gov. Andy Beshear. “But we are gratified that modern science and military determination has, against all odds, found him and will bring him home.”

Funeral services for Lawrence will be held at Shiloh General Baptist Church in Railton, Kentucky, on July 22, 2023, with burial immediately following at Shiloh Cemetery.

The governor has ordered flags lowered to half-staff in honor of Seaman 1st Class Lawrence on the day of his interment.