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A sailor returns to Clay County, nearly 80 years later
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A sailor returns to Clay County, nearly 80 years later

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Charles Alan Jones

Charles Alan Jones, of Harvard, died aboard the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor.

Charles Alan Jones never made it back to Clay County.

The 21-year-old was aboard the USS Oklahoma when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and he was among the 429 crewmen who were killed when it capsized.

His remains went unidentified for generations, but his name lived on in his hometown in Harvard.

It lived on in his nephew, born 15 years later. Robert Alan Stett grew up knowing little about his uncle, but he knew where his middle name came from.

“My mom and dad had pictures of him hanging in our house,” he said. “They talked about him a bit, how he’d like to go hunting.”

And it lived in the decades-old Charles Alan Jones VFW Post, which no longer has its own building but is still an active organization, said Gayle Shore, its chaplain.

‘Thank God he is coming home’ — The overdue return of a son, brother, husband, soldier

Its members — and Stett — all plan to gather at the cemetery sometime this spring, when Charles Alan Jones finally returns home.

“We’ll be there, as a group,” Shore said.

Last month, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that its lab at Offutt Air Base in Bellevue had identified the remains of Jones in September, nearly 80 years after he was killed.

It was a long, complicated process. After the Oklahoma sank, the Navy spent three years recovering the crew’s remains from the sea, and buried them in a pair of Hawaiian cemeteries.

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In 1947, they were unearthed in an attempt to identify them, but the Central Identification Laboratory was only able to put names to 35 men, so the remains of nearly 400 crewmen were reburied at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, known as the Punchbowl.

They would stay there for more than 65 years. But in 2015, the crew of the Oklahoma was unearthed and sent to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency laboratory at Offutt, where scientists have since used dental, anthropological and DNA analysis to identify more than 281 men, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Including Jones. The military contacted Stett, his nephew in Harvard, more than a year ago, asking for a DNA sample.

'Bittersweet' — Twin sailors, Lincoln boys returning 78 years after Pearl Harbor

The official identification was made in September, and the Navy will bury Jones in sometime this spring, though the coronavirus has further delayed the sailor’s homecoming and funeral, a public affairs official said.

Stett hopes his uncle is back in Clay County by Memorial Day.

“He’s coming back to his hometown,” he said. “He’s coming back to be with his family.”

The short and tragic life of a soldier buried beneath an unmarked grave
73 years after his death, Lincoln World War II soldier will rest closer to home

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter

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