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Sailor who died at Pear Harbour returns home 77 years later

June 2018

Like all men and women who join the military, Seaman 1st Class Edward Slapikas no doubt intended to return home to his family, either for visits or upon discharge.

Slapikas joined the United States Navy just prior to America’s entry into World War II and was posted to the USS Oklahoma, a battleship then stationed at U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbour.  We all know what happened next.

Tragically, Slapikas was among the first Americans to die in WWII when the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941.  The USS Oklahoma capsized, killing Slapikas and 428 of his fellow crewmen.  He was 26-years-old.

Medical staff were unable to identify Seaman Slapikas’ remains at the time, so he and the other unidentified sailors were buried in a cemetery in Hawaii.

Attempts were made in 1947 to identify the remains, but Slapikas remained unidentified.

By 2015, advances in DNA identification of human remains allowed scientists to finally identify the previously unknown remains as Seaman 1st Class Edward Slapikas.  Surviving family members were contacted and plans were made to return Slapikas to his hometown in Wanamie, Pennsylvania, about 120 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

On 9 June, Slapikas was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Wanamie with full military honors including receiving the Purple Heart.  His casket was escorted on his final journey by a U.S. Navy honour guard.

One of Seaman Slapikas’ two known surviving family members, Frank Slapikas, who was 3 years old when Seaman Slapikas died, commented to news media after seeing the crowd along the procession route for his long dead uncle, “I wondered to myself how do these people know what time the hearse drives by or have they been waiting for an hour and a half for the procession to come by?  It was a beautiful ceremony.”

Frank further stated, “My only regret of course is Pop and all his brothers weren’t here to welcome their brother home, but they are looking down I’m sure with a big, big smile.”

The answer is the people had been lining the streets between Wanamie and nearby Glen Lyon, where the funeral mass was held, for several hours prior to the procession, a touching sign of respect for a man most never knew or were even alive at the time of his death.  I believe it’s the hope for all of us that we will not be forgotten, even long after our death.

Frank traveled to the funeral from Alabama with his wife and was joined by Leona Hatko of Kingston, Pennsylvania, Slapikas’ other known living relative.  Seaman Slapikas had five brothers and two sisters, all of whom have since passed away.

As the lone Canadian (retired) sailor at the funeral, I was honoured to be a part of such a somber yet heartwarming occasion.

Sources:  http://wnep.com/2018/06/09/navy-seaman-killed-in-pearl-harbor-attack-finally-laid-to-rest-at-home, https://www.timesleader.com/news/707184/long-journey-over-seaman-slapikas-returns-home-for-burial, https://apnews.com/87687565b0c048359a953365a27c2d9b, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-bc-us–wwii-seamans-remains-returning-home-20180524-story.html, http://www.citizensvoice.com/news/sailor-killed-at-pearl-harbor-buried-near-home-after-76-years-1.2347558

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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