Re­mains of Ok­la­homa sailor ID’d af­ter 77 years

The Oklahoman - - FRONT PAGE - BY JUSTIN WINGERTER Staff Writer [email protected]

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.

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