Wallace Eakes was 22 years old on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when his battleship sank in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Last week, the Caney, Kansas native was returned to his family and laid to rest.
Eakes served as a Navy storekeeper on the USS Oklahoma, maintaining the battleship’s military supply store. He was one of nearly 400 USS Oklahoma crew members whose remains were not identified and were buried in mass graves at Honolulu's National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Defense ordered that the graves of the unaccounted-for crew members be exhumed, beginning the task of attempting to identify the battleship’s crew once again.
Eakes’ remains were finally identified in late September using dental and mitochondrial DNA analysis. Mitochondrial DNA analysis can be used to identify smaller samples that are compromised and difficult to analyze.
Gary Eakes, a nephew of Wallace Eakes, thought he was being scammed when he received a call informing him that the remains of his uncle had been identified. Gary Eakes and his sister, Janice Cope, are the last surviving members of Wallace Eakes' family.
“I thought, 'Who are they trying to kid?'” Gary Eakes said. “I thought somebody was pulling my leg.”
He said he was in disbelief that the remains could still be identified after so many years.
“In my mind, it was gone and there was nothing we could do about it,” Eakes said. “It shocked me how technology is so good that they can do this.”
He said his grandparents found it difficult to talk about their son’s death, so he didn’t know what his immediate family would have wanted to do with his uncle’s remains.
“When I asked (grandmother) about it when I was older, she didn’t really want to talk about it,” Eakes said. “She’d say, it’s gone and that’s all I can really say about it.”
He decided that Fort Logan National Cemetery, a veteran cemetery in Denver, Colorado, would be Wallace Eakes’ final resting place. Denver is where Wallace Eakes’ family once lived, and where both of his parents eventually died and were buried.
“Since they died in Denver, I decided it was best to get him close to them,” Gary Eakes said.
Gary Eakes was 2 years old at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. When he was older, he would visit his grandparents, who often told stories about Wallace Eakes.
"I was probably 10 years old when we went to my grandparents house and they told me about him," he said.
Gary Eakes said his grandparents recalled their son as a studious young man, and they saved the letters he wrote.
“When they talked about it, they were upset that they never had the body.” Gary Eakes said. “I’m assuming they’d be very happy.”