A hero laid to rest, 75 years later

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

Wed­snes­day af­ter­noon, atop a green hill over­look­ing Route 5 in Mor­ganza, a St. Mary’s war hero re­ceived a hero’s send­off. It came nearly 75 years af­ter the fact, but it’s just as heart­felt, just as sig­nif­i­cant, and just as de­served.

Al­bert Eu­gene Hay­den, a Navy chief petty of­fi­cer ser ving as a chief elec­tri­cian’s mate aboard the USS Ok­la­homa, was killed Dec. 7, 1941, when Ja­panese air­craft bombed the U.S. Pa­cific fleet in Pearl Har­bor. That at­tack pulled Amer­ica into World War II. He was buried along­side his par­ents with full mil­i­tary hon­ors fol­low­ing a Mass of Chris­tian Burial at St. Joseph’s Church across the road from the church ceme­tery.

Hay­den, who was born in Piney Point and later lived in the Me­chan­icsville area, also ser ved in World War I fol­low­ing his en­list­ment in 1917. He has been listed as the first Mary­lan­der killed in ac­tion in World War II. But it took three-quar­ters of a cen­tury to fi­nally lay him to rest in St. Mar y’s.

Hay­den’s re­mains, and those of four other U.S. sailors killed aboard the Ok­la­homa docked at Pearl Har­bor, were iden­ti­fied by the De­fense POW/MIA Ac­count­ing Agency in Jan­uary. The Ok­la­homa was hit by nine tor­pe­does be­fore it sank and cap­sized in the mud. The ship was sal­vaged in late 1942 and 1943, ac­cord­ing to the Naval His­tory and Her­itage Com­mand. The Ok­la­homa later sunk dur­ing a storm while be­ing towed in the Pa­cific in May 1947. Dur­ing that sal­vage work, a mix of skele­tal re­mains still aboard were com­min­gled and buried in Hawaii. Of­fi­cials later dis­in­terred them, and by last win­ter had iden­ti­fied all they could. Hay­den’s re­mains were among those con­firmed.

Of­fi­cials said Hay­den was to be buried in March in Dorch­ester County on the East­ern Shore, which is home to his near­est next of kin. Hay­den’s nephew, Ed­ward “Pete” Hay­den, lives in Crapo, across the bay.

That’s when an­other of the chief petty of­fi­cer’s rel­a­tives came into the story. Ron­nie Kissinger of Port Repub­lic, one of Al­bert Hay­den’s first cousins, was al­ready well fa­mil­iar with her fam­ily’s ge­neal­ogy. The Calvert County woman never met the chief, but when she read that his re­mains had been iden­ti­fied all these decades later, “the story touched my heart,” she said.

And she was moved to ac­tion. Af­ter ini­tially be­ing un­able to track down her cousin, Pete Hay­den, on the East­ern Shore, she en­listed the help of the Mary­land Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Affairs. Once that con­nec­tion was made, Kissinger of­fered to help in any way that she could. At that point, she vol­un­teered to take over the burial ar­range­ments for him. She said Pete Hay­den was de­lighted to speak to kin from St. Mary’s be­cause his grand­mother’s wish had been to bring Al­bert Hay­den home to the fam­ily.

At the fu­neral, when the U.S. flag drap­ing Al­bert Hay­den’s cas­ket was folded, Pete Hay­den pre­sented that flag to rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Leonard Hall Ju­nior Naval Academy (at the time called Leonard Hall Mil­i­tary Academy), where Al­bert Hay­den at­tended school.

“It puts clo­sure to the chap­ter in our his­tory,” Kissinger said of her cousin’s burial in his home county.

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