ST. LOUIS – Nearly 80 years after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the remains of a St. Louis sailor killed that fateful day will be returned home.
Coxswain Paul Boemer died on Dec. 7, 1941, while serving aboard the USS Oklahoma. Boemer was 21.
Boemer earned several posthumous awards and decorations for his service and sacrifice, including a Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, American Defense Service Medal, and Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal. After enlisting on Dec. 6, 1938, Boemer was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia before being assigned to the transport ship USS Henderson in Hawaii, and later his final duty station on the Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma was assembled from October 1912 to 1914. The ship was commissioned on May 2, 1916. The ship and her crew served as escort for President Woodrow Wilson traveling to France in December 1918 to negotiate the Treaty of Versailles. In July 1936, the Oklahoma sailed to Spain to rescue Americans during the Spanish Civil War.
The ship was assigned to Naval Station Pearl Harbor on Dec. 6, 1940 for patrol and exercises.
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the Oklahoma was moored in Battleship Row when Japanese aircraft attacked. The Oklahoma was among the first vessels hit by enemy fire.
The first wave of attack planes struck the Oklahoma with three aerial torpedoes. Many of the crew were still asleep below decks and never made it to the ship’s main deck. The Oklahoma began to capsize and eventually rolled over completely as the vessel was split open from the side. Hundreds of crewmen were trapped within the hull.
The men trapped in the Oklahoma began banging on the ship’s bulkhead trying to signal passing boats. On December 8 and 9, rescuers managed to cut several holes in the exposed belly of the ship and pulled 32 men out alive. The banging continued and rescuers realized, to their horror, that the sounds were coming from beneath the water line. Nothing could be done to get those crewmen.
According to the U.S. Navy, 429 sailors aboard the USS Oklahoma died as a result of the attack.
When the Oklahoma was righted in 1944, the remains of those 429 sailors were recovered. Only 35 were immediately identified. The unidentified sailors and Marines were initially interred in two cemeteries as “unknowns.”
In 2015, the Department of Defense launched a project to use DNA analysis to identify those unknowns and return their remains to their families. By Dec. 7, 2021, exactly 361 crewmen were identified through DNA. The remaining 33 unidentified sailors were laid to rest with full military honors at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
Coxswain Paul Boemer will be buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery on May 11.