A hero comes home: Mississippi sailor killed at Pearl Harbor given proper burial

Sailors from the Naval Air Station Meridian Funeral Detail fold a flag over the casket of Petty Officer 2nd Class Durell Wade. Wade, who grew up in Calhoun County, perished aboard USS Oklahoma in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His remains were positively identified earlier this year. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)

Staff Writer

After 77 years, a Mississippi sailor has finally been returned to his home state and given a proper burial.

Calhoun County native Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Durell Wade was one of 429 sailors who perished aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma when it was hit by three Japanese torpedoes during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Because of improvements in DNA identification technology. Wade’s remains could be positively identified and returned to his family. He was buried with Full Military Honors at North Mississippi Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Kilmichael Friday, 77 years to the day the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor and brought into World War II. Hundreds from across Mississippi and beyond braved chilly, rainy weather to pay their respects. Among those in attendance were Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, several members of Wade’s family, retired and current military personnel and representatives from Naval Air Station Meridian. A funeral detail from NAS Meridian also participated in the ceremony.

“I think it’s amazing that after all of these years, they have the technology to do that now, and I think it’s important that today (Dec. 7) is the day that it’s done,” said Wade’s cousin, Dianne Smith.

The technology used to identify Wade’s remains is known as mitochondrial and Y-chromosome analysis. To confirm his identity, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) used this scientific analysis, along with dental, anthropological and circumstantial evidence to confirm the identity of Wade and other USS Oklahoma sailors. The project began in April 2015, following approval from the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Another cousin to Wade, Lisa Threet, said she grew up knowing Wade had not been identified after the attack.

“I think it’s amazing that all these people have come from so far away, some of them from several different states,” Threet said. “It was a great tribute.”

In his address, Bryant recalled his own father’s service in the U.S. Navy during World War II and Wade’s ultimate sacrifice.

“Today we will intern his earthly remains brought back by the sacrifice of so many,” Bryant said. “It’s certainly right and fitting that we do this. A young man from rural Mississippi coming home. He had just written a letter home a few months earlier talking about the possibility of getting a promotion, a 24-year-old sailor who joined in 1936 and signed on for two more years in 1940 living the dream of serving in the United States Navy.”

Commander J.P. Falardeau, executive officer of NAS Meridian, spoke to the importance of the event and the greater importance of remembering the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“It’s an honor to be here and to bear witness to such a meaningful event, not only for the Wade Family, but for the U.S. Navy and the state of Mississippi, in which I work personally and my sailors here that supported the event work,” Falardeau said. “It’s a very humbling experience to be a part of something as truly impressive and meaningful as bringing home a sailor from that infamous day in 1941.”

Falardeau recalled the importance of Pearl Harbor to the U.S. Navy’s history.

“It really helps your own service to understand the past,” Falardeau said. “One of the things we do very well at NAS Meridian is not only pay tribute to the past, but study it, understand it and realize how much it applies to today.”

In his eulogy, Rev. John Doler, pastor of First Baptist Church in Leland, recalled the verse Galatians 5:13 which reads: “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

“We’re here today because of the Greatest Generation,” said Durell Wade’s Nephew Larry Wade. “When we look back on that generation, I do not think that we realize the difference that it made in our world. Because of many things that happened then, today we can gather in freedom.”