Identified Middletown sailor killed in Pearl Harbor ‘coming home’

The remains of Navy Fireman 3rd Class Willard Irvin Lawson, 25, were identified after they were buried in a mass grave, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency that made the announced Monday.

Lawson was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma when it was attacked by Japanese aircraft on Dec. 7, 1941, as it was docked at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Lawson was one of 429 crewmen killed in the attack.

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From December 1941 to June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased crew, which were subsequently interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu cemeteries.

In April 2015, the Deputy Secretary of Defense issued a policy memorandum directing the disinterment of unknowns associated with the USS Oklahoma, according to the DPAA.

On June 15, 2015, DPAA personnel began exhuming the remains for analysis. DPAA scientists used dental and anthropological analysis to identify Lawson’s remains. Scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System assisted in using mitochondrial DNA analysis.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 were killed. There are 72,738 of those Americans are still unaccounted for from World War II.

Lawson’s niece, Linda Gordon, 72, of Milton, Ky., said she had heard about her uncle’s death through stories relayed by relatives. Now, she’s relieved.

“This is a long time coming,” Gordon the Journal-News. “I was happy that they found him. We never knew where he was buried. We were told they buried the boys in mass graves in three different places.”

Lawson’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing in Hawaii, along with the others who are missing from WWII. Since Lawson has been accounted for, a rosette will be placed next to his name.

He will be buried April 27 in the Indiana Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Madison, Ind., seven miles from where his niece lives, she said.

Alan Burnham, superintendent of the state-run cemetery, said it’s “truly an honor” to bury Lawson. He appreciates the efforts of the military to identify the remains and return the sailors’ bodies.

Lawson’s parents, Cud H. Lawson and Gertie Mae Lawson, are buried at Woodside Cemetery in Middletown, according to cemetery records. Lawson was succeeded in death by three brothers and three sisters, Gordon said. He is survived by two half-sisters, she said.

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