Pearl Harbor Medal of Honor Recipient Laid to Rest at Arlington National Cemetery

By Kevin M. Hymel, Historian on 1/4/2024

When word came to abandon ship, Seaman 1st Class James Richard Ward remained at his post. The USS Oklahoma, docked at Pearl Harbor on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, had just been blasted by a series of Japanese torpedoes and began to capsize. Instead of charging out of the turret he manned, Ward held a flashlight to guide his fellow seamen out of danger. His selfless sacrifice saved countless lives and earned him the Medal of Honor.

Ward’s body remained in the Oklahoma’s watery grave for a year. After the ship was righted, the remains of those onboard (many commingled) were removed and, in 1947, buried in Hawaii’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. In 2015, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency disinterred the caskets of the USS Oklahoma crew and worked to identify each.

In 2021, Ward’s remains were identified, and his descendants were contacted. “It was phenomenal when we found out a match had been made,” said Ward’s nephew, Richard Hanna. He remembers his mother and grandparents talking about the uncle he never met, noting that his grandparents "had memorabilia of him around their house.” When it came time to choose a burial place, Hanna decided on Arlington National Cemetery. “To me, this is hallowed ground," he said. 

Ward’s funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 81 received honors that he earned as a Medal of Honor recipient. The service commenced with a flyover by F-18 Hornets as a sailor holding the Medal of Honor flag led the Honor Guard carrying Ward’s casket to the plot. U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Honea attended, along with Ward's family and friends. 

“Today we have gathered to honor an American hero,” U.S. Navy Chaplain (Lt. Cmdr.) Robert Price told the gathered crowd. Price spoke about Ward’s childhood in Springfield, Ohio, mentioning that he loved baseball and had enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1940. Price then recounted Ward’s heroics on that fateful day in which he saved the lives of his fellow sailors. “Seaman First Class Ward’s actions remind us of our commitment to each other and our nation,” said Price. “We honor his service today and renew our own vows to each other, to our ship, to our shipmates, and to our nation.”

After a Navy firing team fired three volleys, a bugler sounded Taps and a Navy band played "America the Beautiful." Chaplain Price told the family, “We’re going to keep good watch over him at Arlington National Cemetery.”

The service, as well as the efforts to bring Ward home, impressed Adm. Franchetti. “The fact that he could take his place here today honors his service and sacrifice in a way it needs to be honored,” she said. “This is where he belongs.”

Master Chief Petty Officer Honea appreciated Ward’s honor and commitment to the Navy’s core values. “We instill this in our sailors,” he explained, “and that’s certainly how Ward conducted himself that day.”

After the service, Hanna reflected on burying his uncle at Arlington National Cemetery. “I ran through my mind what my mom would have thought and what my grandparents would have thought,” he said. “I think they would have liked the honor.”