SEVENTY-SIX YEARS ago this week, Imperial Japanese forces launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, killing 2,403 men and women and launching the United States into the Second World War.
Nearly eight decades later, the attack not only still resonates, but fallout from that fateful Sunday morning is still being felt, said Freeholder Deputy Director Gerry P. Little.
Early this year, the United States Navy announced that it had identified the remains of a young Ocean County sailor killed when the battleship U.S.S. Oklahoma was torpedoed and capsized in the harbor on December 7, 1941.
Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Earl R. Melton of Lakewood was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
“Machinist’s Mate Melton is another example of our brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom,” Little said last summer, shortly after the sailor’s family was notified that his remains had been positively identified.
The announcement was first made by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, a federal office charged with identifying killed and missing American service members from all wars.
“Thanks to their hard work the family of this brave sailor finally has closure,” Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari said. “After all of these years a hero has finally come home.”
Melton’s unidentified remains were originally interred at a cemetery in Hawaii, according to a press release issued by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency,
In 2015, the Department of Defense ordered the disinterment of unknown sailors from the USS Oklahoma in an effort to identify their remains.
DNA analysis matched Melton with samples given by a niece and four nephews. Dental records and circumstantial evidence helped confirm the findings.
Little, who is also liaison to the Ocean County Veteran’s Service Bureau, said Ocean County never forgets those who have worn, and continue to wear, the uniforms of the United States Armed Forces.
“Seventy-six years ago the United States entered a conflict to end tyranny in the world,” Little said. “Today, our brave men and women are defending their nation from new threats to peace. Let us pay tribute to all of our veterans who have made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.”
That long-ago Sunday morning began like any other on the sunny and serene Hawaiian Islands. But the illusion of peace was shattered when the first Japanese planes appeared in the skies over the island.
“The shock of Pearl Harbor was as great as the shock of the attack on the World Trade Center generations later,” Little said. “A nation that had been divided before the attack came together to defeat an enemy and preserve freedom in the world.”