76 years after his death, US sailor's remains to return home to Louisville
A Western Union telegram sent to Samuel Crowder's mother in 1941 is just one of the keepsakes that's been passed down in a book of memories to his nieces.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A Western Union telegram sent to Samuel Crowder's mother in 1941 is just one of the keepsakes that's been passed down in a book of memories to his nieces.
"The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your son Samuel Warrick Crowder, Fireman First Class, U.S. Navy is missing following action in the performance of his duty, and in the service of his country..." the telegram reads. "It is impossible to locate your son Samuel Warrick Crowder Fireman First Class U.S. Navy and he has therefore been officially declared to have lost his life, in the service of his country as of December 7th 1941."
Sharon Johnson and Carolyn Wright never knew their Uncle Sam, but they did know about his paintings, the set of silver he sent to his mother that last Christmas and, most importantly, about the tragic ending to his young life.
Crowder, 35, was stationed aboard the USS Oklahoma when it was hit by torpedoes during the Japanese Attacks on Pearl Harbor. Four-hundred-and-twenty-nine crewmen died.
"I just wonder ... Did he die immediately?" Wright asked. "Was it hours later? You just wonder."
Soon after the attack, officials were able to recover 29 individuals, but the vast majority were unidentifiable, according to an interview with the Defense POW MIA Accounting Agency.
Crowder was never identified and was buried as an "unknown" in a mass grave. Decades have passed, and while Crowder's parents, brothers and sisters are long gone, his story was not forgotten.
"The Department of Defense holds informational meetings across the country for family members who have lost family members in war and have never been returned," Wright said. "So my husband and I decided to go; this was back in 2011.
"I gave a DNA sample while I was there. So after that, I came home, didn't hear anything. I would get a letter every year inviting us back to another meeting."
The Department of Defense exhumed the remains of 388 unaccounted-for sailors and Marines on the Oklahoma in 2015 for DNA analysis. And just a few weeks ago, the phone rang.
"My whole life, it has always been that Uncle Sam has been gone," Johnson said. "So it was just a real shock when the Navy finally called and said his remains have been identified."
Johnson got the call because she's the oldest surviving family member.
"There were eight bones," Wright said.
The sisters spread the word to their cousins on the West Coast. One of them, Fred Crowder, lives in Oregon.
"I had to sit down ... 76 years is a long time to wait for the word," he said. "I was in tears and I said, 'Oh my God. This is happy. Finally we're going to be getting closure for all our dads, our aunts and everybody."
Even though surviving family members now live all across the country, Sam Crowder's home was Louisville. In just a few short weeks at Resthaven Cemetery on Bardstown Road, Sam Crowder will be laid to rest near his mother.
"We could have buried him anywhere," Wright said. "We could have buried him at Arlington. We could have buried him here in Lexington next to his brother. But Louisville was his home."
Right now, Crowder's family is waiting on another call from the Navy to let them know when exactly the remains will be arriving in Louisville. That's expected to happen in the next few weeks.
The Navy is covering all of the expenses.
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