After decades of wondering if he had been lost at sea or buried anonymously, the family of a U.S. serviceman — including his relatives in Crossett — finally have an answer.
Charles Houston Harris was 22 years old when a quiet Sunday morning turned into a thunderstorm of bullets and bombs in a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Harris was a U.S Navy electrician’s mate 3rd class on the USS Oklahoma, a battleship in the harbor, when the Japanese attackers fired eight torpedoes into the ship.
It capsized, and was hit by another torpedo even after it sank.
While some of the men on the ship were able to jump to freedom and others were rescued from inside the sunken vessel, Harris was one of the 429 seamen who died on the ship Dec. 7, 1941.
Later, the remains of 388 of the victims were recovered. They were buried in Hawaii, but later exhumed in the hope of being identified. The men who were not identified in that effort were reburied in 1950.
In 2015, another attempt to identify the remains using DNA began. Three years after that effort began, Harris was identified.
Gayle Bunn of Crossett is Harris’ nephew. He was three when Harris died and doesn’t remember him, but knew the family story about the serviceman who died in Pearl Harbor.
“I had a first cousin from Florida call me on the phone; she had given DNA,” he said. “Another cousin from Missouri also gave.
“We were surprised, because we had always thought he was on the (USS) Arizona. But it turns out he was on the Oklahoma.”
The family was given a choice, to have Harris’ remains brought back to the mainland for burial in his hometown of Jena, La., or have him interred at the National Cemetery of the Pacific properly identified. They chose the national cemetery. His remains will be placed there in June.
“What few of us that are still living, they were just proud,” Bunn said of the DNA identification. “It was a relief to know he was found and he will get a proper burial.”
Harris was first identified in April. After resting for a while on the ship where he died and multiple exhumations, he will be able to rest again, this time under his own name.