Remains of Oklahoma sailor ID’d after 77 years
At a cemetery in Honolulu, Hawaii, there are Courts of the Missing and on a marble slab in one of those courts is the name of a man who is no longer missing: Navy Fireman First Class Leonard R. Geller.
Geller was a native of Garber, Oklahoma, and just 21 years old when two torpedoes slammed into the USS Oklahoma battleship he was assigned to at Pearl Harbor.
It was 7:56 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941. The third torpedo struck four minutes later, at 8 a.m., and several more followed. Within a dozen minutes, the USS Oklahoma was capsized, Geller was dead and that day of infamy had dawned.
This week, the Navy announced it had identified Geller’s remains, 77 years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor killed him and 428 others on the
USS Oklahoma. A funeral date has not yet been set, according to a Navy spokesperson.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Tulsa Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the identification of Geller's remains will bring his family closure.
"As we mark the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I pray for Leonard Geller, the other 428 crewmen aboard the USS Oklahoma and the more than 2,000 others who lost their lives in service to their country on that tragic day, and their families," the senator said.
Geller’s remains were recovered soon after the smoke cleared at Pearl Harbor but could not be identified at that time. Another attempt was made in 1947, when the remains of 35 men on the USS Oklahoma were identified. Geller’s were not among those.
In 1949, the remains of Geller and others were classified as “non-recoverable” by a military board. The Navy fireman from Garber was buried in Honolulu, unidentified but undisturbed, for the second half of the 20th century. His name was etched into the marble walls, alongside thousands of others who could not be found or identified.
“In these gardens,” reads a stone at that cemetery, “are recorded the names of Americans who gave their lives in the service of their country and whose earthly resting place is known only to God.”
In 2015, the Defense Department ordered unidentified remains from the USS Oklahoma to be disinterred for analysis. Through the use of DNA and other evidence, Geller was identified.
He is, in that sense, fortunate. Of the roughly 407,000 Americans who died during World War II, 72,776 are still unaccounted for. Less than half of those, about 26,000, are considered “possibly recoverable” by the military.
In the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, a rosette will soon be placed next to the name Leonard R. Geller. It will serve as a notice to all that this man, who lost his life as it was only just beginning, is lost no longer.
Leonard Richard Geller of Garber, Oklahoma, has finally been found.
The capsized USS Oklahoma lies next to a slightly damaged USS Maryland on Dec. 7, 1941.
Fireman First Class Leonard Richard Geller is seen in this undated United States Navy photograph.