Way home clear for sailor who died on USS Oklahoma

Photo provided by Bob Valley The remains of Navy Fireman 2nd Class Lowell Earl Valley, who served on the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor, were recently identified, clearing his way home to Ontonagon to be buried.

ONTONAGON — On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, sinking four US Navy battleships and killing 2,403, including Navy Fireman 2nd Class Lowell Earl Valley of Ontonagon aboard the USS Oklahoma.

Valley served on the Oklahoma after enlisting following his graduation in 1940. He probably specifically requested serving on the Oklahoma, because a relative was to serve there.

For years Valley was among the 394 unidentified casualties on the Oklahoma buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Initially only 39 service members were identified.

In January, Lowell’s brother, Bob Valley of Gladstone, received the long-awaited call informing him of Lowell’s identification.

The identification came after the unidentified remains of service members were disinterred from their resting places starting in 2015.

US Navy photo In the Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack, the Oklahoma was hit by up to nine torpedoes, opening the hull’s port side almost completely. In 20 minutes, the ship listed and capsized, with many sailors trapped alive inside. Thirty-two sailors were recovered alive. More than 400 were killed.

“I always thought there was a possibility when they decided to bring them all up,” Bob said. “I thought, ‘Well it’s a possibility,’ but I actually didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime.”

The now identified Lowell marks the last of three U.P. service members who served on the Oklahoma, including his friend and shipmate Gerald George Lehman of Hancock.

Within the coming weeks, Bob will receive a home visit from a Navy officer with more details of the identification.

Re-burial will take place in June or July, with Lowell to be buried at the Catholic cemetery in Ontonagon.

Bob himself has been closely involved with the identification of other USS Oklahoma casualties as part of the USS Oklahoma Family. The group is made up of survivors and family members of those killed on the Oklahoma. Bob was focused on identifying a group of 27 sailors who were previously identified using dental records but not approved for release by officials.

“To date 26 of those 27 that we started out with have been identified and returned to next of kin. As far as the other casualties besides the 27, we’re up to 87,” he said.

The complete identification is expected to take five years, Bob explained and with so many successes, new personnel has been added to visit the service member’s next of kin.