USS Oklahoma Sailor Buried at Arlington National Cemetery

By JENIFER LEIGH VAN VLECK on 3/25/2022

By Kevin M. Hymel

The 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (the Old Guard) Caisson Platoon supports military funeral honors with funeral escort for U.S. Navy Seaman 1st Class Walter Stein at Arlington National Cemetery, March 24, 2022
(U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery)

Seaman 1st Class Walt Stein’s life was cut short on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The 20-year-old sailor from Cheyenne, Wyoming, was serving onboard the battleship USS Oklahoma when Japanese torpedo bombers struck the ship multiple times. The Oklahoma quickly capsized, killing 429 crewmen, including Stein. But his body remained unidentified, leaving his family to wonder about his fate for decades.

On March 24, 2022, Stein was finally buried at Arlington National Cemetery. “This gives my family a feeling of closure,” said Patrick McGuire, Stein’s nephew. “It’s been a long time coming,” added McGuire’s daughter, Shannon. “We spent eighty years just not knowing.”

Stein’s remains, and the remains of his crewmates, had been recovered from the ship during World War II and buried in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries. When an attempt to identify his remains failed in 1947, he was buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific until 2015, when members of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency exhumed his remains again for identification.

In 2021, McGuire and his daughter provided DNA samples to establish Stein’s identity. Soon after, a Navy chief petty officer contacted McGuire and told him they had positively identified his uncle and the Navy would provide a military funeral to help give the family closure.

At the funeral, a Navy chaplain eulogized, “We bring him home here to Arlington National Cemetery, may his name be written I the book of the brave.” After prayers were offered, the three volleys fired, and the flag folded and handed to McGuire, he and three other members of his extended family each laid a red rose on Stein’s casket, representing each of the living relatives. They then laid twenty white roses, representing each year of Stein’s life. 

“This is so much more than I expected,” said Shannon McGuire after the ceremony. Her father, too, was moved by the way the Navy honored his uncle. “I had no idea it would be so elaborate,” he said about the Navy’s ceremonial guard and band. “I have so much appreciation for what the Navy has done for our family.”

The U.S. flag is presented to Patrick McGuire at the conclusion of military funeral honors with funeral escort for McGuire's uncle, U.S. Navy Seaman 1st Class Walter Stein, March 24, 2022. 
(U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery)