Pearl Harbor Victim Brought Home for Burial After Almost 80 Years


Navy Seaman 1st Class Orval Austin Tranbarger was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Nearly 80 years later, his body has been recovered, identified and buried next to his parents in Missouri.

Tranbarger joined the military the day after his 18th birthday. He was one of 429 sailors killed when Japanese planes sank the USS Oklahoma in a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor. He was 20 years old at the time.

More than 2,400 people died in the attack that day. It is considered the act that led to the US entering World War II.

His remains were not identified for nearly eight decades.
His remains were not identified for nearly eight decades.

For three years, personnel from the Navy worked to recover the remains of the deceased from the wreckage in Pearl Harbor. By September 1947, only 35 of the bodies had been positively identified.

Last year, the US Department of Defense POW/MIA Accountability Agency was able to identify Tranbarger’s body using DNA tests. His family was contacted after the positive identification.

His remains had been buried in the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.

In 2015, all the remains related to the Oklahoma which were buried in that cemetery were exhumed and sent to the DPAA’s lab in Hawaii for identification using modern methods. Tranbarger’s remains were positively identified on September 18, 2019.

Oklahoma capsizes in a photo taken during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Oklahoma capsizes in a photo taken during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed plans to send Tranbarger’s remains home for burial. The burial ceremony was held only five miles away from where Tranbarger grew up.

Tranbarger’s younger brother, Burl, accepted the folded flag that had been draped on the casket. Tranbarger is survived by two brothers and two sisters of the 10 siblings he had.

Burl said that the ceremony convinced him that people still honor the military and honor the US. Besides extended family, many local residents paid their respects or stopped to watch the procession.

Tranbarger’s name is on the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl cemetery in Hawaii. A rosette has been placed next to his name to indicate that he has now been identified.

Michael Plum attended the burial. He is a chaplain at the VFW Post No 3009 in Mountain View, Missouri. He said that joining the military is stating that you are willing to give your life for your country. When a service member does give their life, he said, it makes you want to honor their life.

The Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor used dive-bombers, fighter-bombers and torpedo planes. They managed to sink nine US ships including five battleships. They also severely damaged 21 ships. 2,402 US servicemen died in the attacks.

The crew of the Oklahoma tried to fight back but the ship was hit with eight torpedoes in the first ten minutes of the battle. A ninth torpedo hit after it sank.

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The day after the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan. Only one person voted no. Three days later Japan’s ally, Germany, declared war on the US. On December 11, 1941, the US declared war on Germany making that day the official entry of the US in World War II.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE