By Kevin M. Hymel, Historian (contractor)
On November 9, 1941, 40-year-old James Thomas Cheshire, a chief pharmacist’s mate aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma, wrote a last letter to his son, but he did not know it. Less than a month later, the USS Oklahoma capsized after multiple Japanese torpedoes struck her hull, entrapping and killing 429 crewmen, including Cheshire.
While Cheshire’s remains were recovered from the battleship, they could not be identified and were buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. In 2015, his remains were reexamined using advanced forensic techniques. Four years later he was identified and his next of kin contacted.
Finally, on July 22, 2022, Cheshire’s remains were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery where more than thirty of his descendants paid their respects. “To me, this is about the family getting together for the first time in the history of the entire Cheshire family,” said Amy Cheshire, one of James’ grandchildren. “We have second cousins from nine different states here.”
When Amy first learned of Pearl Harbor in school, she raised her hand and said, “I know this story, my grandfather died in Pearl Harbor.” She spent the next thirty years researching her grandfather’s service. Her artifact collection includes the American flag used for his first funeral, photographs, and his Purple Heart.
The funeral affected Mary Beth Hill, the oldest of James’ grandchildren. “It was much more emotional than I anticipated,” she said. “Because this was a longtime coming.” Her memory about her grandfather is that nobody, not her grandmother, mother, or other relatives, ever spoke about him. When, at a young age, she asked her grandmother about her grandfather, she was simply told, “It’s too painful to talk about.”
Under clear blue skies in Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 62, Father William Saunders gave the eulogy, telling James’ gathered descendants: “For a while he was unknown to his country, but he was never unknown in the eyes of God.” After the volley was fired, Taps played, and the folded flag given to Mary Beth, James Cheshire joined the other uniformed men and women laid to rest at the cemetery.
As for the letter James penned to his son a month before the Japanese attack, he signed it: “Bye bye for now, love you lots.”