ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – Paul Boemer was just 21 years old when he was killed on December 7, 1941, aboard the USS Oklahoma. Some 81 years later, he was brought back home to St. Louis.     

Paul Boemer had served in the Navy for three years and a day before he was killed in the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor. 

“Well, the Army or Navy Department will notify families or parents of a deceased veteran,” said Hugh Boemer, Paul’s brother. “So, I was there when they notified about my brother.”     

The USS Oklahoma was assembled from October 1912 to 1914. The ship was commissioned on May 2, 1916. The ship and her crew served as escort for President Woodrow Wilson traveling to France in December 1918 to negotiate the Treaty of Versailles. In July 1936, the Oklahoma sailed to Spain to rescue Americans during the Spanish Civil War.

The ship was assigned to Naval Station Pearl Harbor on Dec. 6, 1940 for patrol and exercises.

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the Oklahoma was moored in Battleship Row when Japanese aircraft attacked. The Oklahoma was among the first vessels hit by enemy fire.

The first wave of attack planes struck the Oklahoma with three aerial torpedoes. Many of the crew were still asleep below decks and never made it to the ship’s main deck. The Oklahoma began to capsize and eventually rolled over completely as the vessel was split open from the side. Hundreds of crewmen were trapped within the hull.

The men trapped in the Oklahoma began banging on the ship’s bulkhead trying to signal passing boats. On December 8 and 9, rescuers managed to cut several holes in the exposed belly of the ship and pulled 32 men out alive. The banging continued and rescuers realized, to their horror, that the sounds were coming from beneath the water line. Nothing could be done to get those crewmen.

Until recently, Paul Boemer had been interred with the remains of the Oklahoma.

In 2015, the Department of Defense launched a project to use DNA analysis to identify those unknowns and return their remains to their families.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced on Sept. 29, 2020, that Boemer had finally been accounted for. His remains were sent to St. Louis for burial at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

“Very nice. A great honor,” Hugh said. “It’s so wonderful for the United States government to take care of their veterans and people who fought for the country. It’s just heartwarming to know there’s still a radiance of God’s love.” 

By Dec. 7, 2021, exactly 361 crewmen were identified through DNA. The remaining 33 unidentified sailors were laid to rest with full military honors at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.

“A good brother,” Hugh said. “He was well-educated and very thoughtful for the rest of the family.”