NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Tennessee Capitol will be flying its flags at half-mast on Tuesday, in honor of a recently identified Yorkville native who died aboard the USS Oklahoma during the deadly bombings of Pearl Harbor.
The Oklahoma was one of the first vessels hit in the waves of the Sunday morning Pearl Harbor attack. Over 400 men were aboard and sleeping in their racks below decks.
Of the 429 sailors who were killed on the Oklahoma, the remains of 388 soldiers were unable to be identified. These were buried in the Halawa and Nu'uanu Cemetaries as "unknowns."
Now, thanks to DNA analysis, 355 sailors have been individually identified. As of January 4, 2021, Navy Chief Water Tender Claude White, 40, of Yorkville, Tennessee is among them.
On Tuesday, White was returned to Dyer, Tennessee to be buried. For 20 miles along the procession route, American flags and people lined up to pay their respects.
"I was overwhelmed by the show of support," said Navy Rear Admiral Gene Price.
It was all for a man they've never met, but promise to never forget.
"It’s closure for the family," said Mike Biggers, Claude's great-nephew.
Having died in the line of duty, Navy Chief Water Tender Claude White received a hero's welcome.
"It just means everything to bring him home," said Biggers.
While no family member longs for the chance to lay their loved one to rest, this graveside service might be the exception.
"I always heard my mother talking about him as I was growing up, and she heard her father talk about it," said Biggers.
On December 7, 1941, a day that would live in infamy, White's life came to a close.
"He was unfortunately trapped in the Oklahoma when it turned over. It was hit by several torpedoes and those poor sailors died in there," said Rear Admiral Price.
For a generation, his remains, along with other Americans', have been trapped in the ship, unidentified, until now. "Now through the blessing of DNA science and what we’ve been able to extrapolate through the bones and remains, we now know that we have Chief White," said Price.
Eighty years after White's death, his niece was his closest relative still alive.
"She got out of the hospital today to attend this," emphasized Price.
It was a moment she thought she'd never see, and an experience everyone else gathered in the cemetery will never forget.
"It was moving to see that kind of respect and regard that you would have for a fallen sailor who’s been gone for 80 years. But now he’s home," said Rear Admiral Price.
White's name, which was recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, will now receive a rosette to indicate that he's been identified.
White enlisted in the U.S. Navy on Sept. 9, 1920 in Nashville, reaching the rank of Chief Water Tender. He was assigned to the USS Oklahoma after completing his training at Newport, Rhode Island.
He received many awards and decorations during his service, including a Purple Heart Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal with three stars, American Defense Service Medal with Fleet Clasp, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Bronze Star, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal and Pistol Sharpshooter.
Online condolences to his surviving family may be made here. There is also an online floral store at which the public may send flowers to the family or plant a tree in his memory.
Additionally, to learn about the Defense Department's mission to account for Americans who went missing in service of their country, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) website and social media are linked.
White's personnel profile is available online as well.