DALLAS CITY — More than eight decades after a west central Illinois man died at Pearl Harbor, his remains are finally coming home.
Navy Fireman 1st Class George Franklin Price, 23, of Dallas City, was aboard the USS Oklahoma on Dec. 7, 1941, when the battleship was attacked by Japanese aircraft.
The ship sustained multiple torpedo hits while it was moored at Ford Island and it capsized quickly.
Killed in the attack were 429 crewmen, including Price — and most were buried as unidentified remains.
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‘They took care of him’
Price was born in Meredosia in 1918, grew up in Dallas City, and enlisted in the Navy on May 14, 1940.
After completing training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, he was stationed on the USS Oklahoma beginning in August of 1940.
Price’s niece, Joyce Martin, said he came from a large family, and he was especially close with his sisters before enlisting.
“They spoiled him,” she said. “They took care of him, as only sisters could.”
Price was not married and had no children of his own.
Martin said his seven living nieces and nephews were all born after he died.
While they never knew him personally, they got to know him through family stories.
“Five of his sisters were left, and we called those ‘the sisters.’ Every time we would get together as a family, we would hear the sisters talk about George,” Martin said. “And that’s how we grew to know who Uncle George was, by listening to these sisters.”
The not knowing
Following the attack at Pearl Harbor, it took several years for the Navy to recover the remains of the dead crew members.
The unidentified sailors were buried in the Halawa and Nu’uanu naval cemeteries in Hawaii.
In 1947, as part of efforts to recover and identify fallen U.S. personnel in the Pacific Theater, the American Graves Registration Service disinterred the remains of casualties from those two cemeteries.
They were transferred to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks, but staff were only able to confirm the identities of 35 men at that time.
So the unidentified remains of hundreds of men were then buried again at the National Cemetery of the Pacific, which is known as the Punchbowl.
In 1949, a military board classified those who were not identified, including Price, as non-recoverable.
When Martin thinks of the sisters’ stories now, she hears something else in them.
“To hear the grief and the not knowing in the sisters’ voices as they talked, now that I reflect back,” she said. “It really moves me now that I know what grief they went through as a family.”
The mission of the Department of Defense’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency is to provide the fullest possible accounting for missing U.S. personnel to their families and the nation.
In 2015, that agency exhumed the unknowns from the Punchbowl with a renewed interest in identifying the remains of the men who died on the USS Oklahoma.
The effort led to Martin, her brother, Albert Siegfried, and one of their cousins being contacted to provide DNA samples.
Martin said to be able to move forward in any way in identifying Uncle George was exciting.
“Deep down in the bottom of my heart, I knew there would be some result to this,” she said.
Since 2015, scientists have used dental, anthropological, and DNA analysis to identify 355 of 388 service members from the USS Oklahoma who had been buried as unknown remains.
Martin said the family was ecstatic when they got the news that Price had been identified.
Being able to lay him to rest, she said, will be like closing a chapter.
“Even though we didn’t know him, we always had a chapter in our lives left wide open,” Martin said.
Martin’s father served in the Navy during World War II, as Siegfried did during Vietnam.
For Siegfried, it brought something else the family needed after all those years of not knowing – peace.
“It’s peace of mind. Peace for his parents, and peace to all his relatives who knew him,” Siegfried said.
Between two sisters
Before Price’s remains were identified, his name was recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl.
Now the Navy will put a rosette by his name there to show he’s been accounted for.
Price will once again be buried, but this time it will be in his hometown.
The family is planning a military funeral for Price May 4 in Dallas City.
“He will be laid to rest in the same cemetery that his mother and father are buried in, and four of his sisters,” Martin said. “He will be laid to rest between two sisters.”
Price was awarded the Purple Heart Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, and Navy Good Conduct Medal for his service, among other decorations.
He is not the only sailor from Dallas City who died on the USS Oklahoma whose remains were identified in recent years.
Navy Fireman 1st Class Robert J. Harr of Dallas City was identified last year. Harr was 25 when he died at Pearl Harbor, and he was buried Aug. 14, 2021, in Rutledge, Missouri.
Jory Morr, Lieutenant Commander of the Navy Casualty Office, said identifying the remains provides closure for the families and allows the Navy to honor sailors who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Jane Carlson covers west central Illinois and southeast Iowa for Tri States Public Radio.