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Honoring a Fallen Hero: Remains of Boaz Navy Fireman killed at Pearl Harbor returned to family

A solemn ceremony at Birmingham Shuttlesworth international airport Tuesday as the remains of a...
A solemn ceremony at Birmingham Shuttlesworth international airport Tuesday as the remains of a young Boaz man who was killed at Pearl Harbor were finally brought home.(Jacob Guyton, Birmingham Airport Authority)
Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 11:48 AM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - On a sunny summer Tuesday afternoon about 20 members of Ralph Curtis Battles’ family huddled at a Southwest gate at the Birmingham Shuttlesworth international Airport, waiting for a moment almost 80 years in the making.

Battles was 25 years old, enlisted in the Navy, and serving as Fireman Second Class on the U.S.S. Oklahoma when it was attacked on December 7th, 1941, becoming one of the first casualties of World War II.

A solemn ceremony at Birmingham Shuttlesworth international airport Tuesday as the remains of a...
A solemn ceremony at Birmingham Shuttlesworth international airport Tuesday as the remains of a young Boaz man who was killed at Pearl Harbor were finally brought home.(DOD)

Since then, his family has been hoping and praying for his remains to finally come home. Tuesday that finally happened.

His nephew Ralph Shell breaking down in tears as they waited for the plane.

“Today.. we’re here to welcome him home,” says Shell fighting tears. “That’s what our family always wanted and it’s just a testimony to our military and the country we live in that they would still do this after 80 years.”

A solemn ceremony at Birmingham Shuttlesworth international airport Tuesday as the remains of a...
A solemn ceremony at Birmingham Shuttlesworth international airport Tuesday as the remains of a young Boaz man who was killed at Pearl Harbor were finally brought home.(Jacob Guyton, Birmingham Airport Authority)

The U.S.S. Oklahoma sank within minutes after being hit with nine torpedoes during the attack on Pearl Harbor. 429 sailors and marines on board were killed. Battles’ family says he was among 388 men whose bodies remained in the ship’s hull on the ocean floor for 18 months after the attack.

Their remains were eventually moved to a cemetery in Hawaii but most were unidentified.

For decades, Battles’ family continued to hold out hope that one day they could give him a proper funeral and say goodbye.

“My Grandparents always reserved a place for him in family cemetery in Boaz with a headstone and foot stone,” says Shell. “My mother mourned her brother for the rest of her life.”

A solemn ceremony at Birmingham Shuttlesworth international airport Tuesday as the remains of a...
A solemn ceremony at Birmingham Shuttlesworth international airport Tuesday as the remains of a young Boaz man who was killed at Pearl Harbor were finally brought home.(Jacob Guyton, Birmingham Airport Authority)

In 2015 the U.S. Navy removed the remains and began DNA testing in an effort to return the bodies to their loved ones. Shell says that In April the U.S. Navy called him, saying they had identified his uncle.

“We will be able to place his remains with the rest of family in Boaz,” says Shell smiling. He says the Navy has now identified over 340 of those unidentified sailors and marines that were serving on the U.S.S. Oklahoma with him that day.

“My mom would be elevated. I can remember my mother saying she wished they could bring him home.” He says choking back tears.  “He died serving this country which is still the greatest country on this planet, and I think he would be proud.”

A graveside service will be held on Saturday, August 28, 2021, at one o’clock p.m. at the Hillcrest Cemetery, with full Military Honors provided by the United States Navy.

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