A hero laid to rest, 75 years later
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.