Vet­er­ans lost in WWII re­mem­bered

Peters­burg holds Pearl Har­bor Honor Day cer­e­mony at Bland­ford Ceme­tery

The Progress-Index Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Sean Jones Staff Writer

PETERS­BURG — Pearl Har­bor is some­times re­mem­bered qui­etly as a con­flict lost in time. On its 77th an­niver­sary, the His­toric Peters­burg Foun­da­tion, Peters­burg Preser­va­tion Task Force and Mil­i­tary Of­fi­cers As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica held a cer­e­mony to honor Peters­burg’s vet­er­ans who were lost in WWII.

Skies opened up to bear their first rays of sun­light in sev­eral days over the city. They il­lu­mi­nated Amer­i­can flags, wreaths, a tent and chairs set up with blue cloth near the bot­tom of a hill inside Vir­ginia’s sec­ond largest mil­i­tary ceme­tery.

The scene was set around a re­cent ad­di­tion to the grounds, the grave site of En­sign Wil­liam Man­ley Thomp­son who was lost on the USS Ok­la­homa dur­ing the at­tacks on Pearl Har­bor in 1941.

Thomp­son at­tended the Univer­sity of North Carolina (UNC) be­fore the war and is known as the first UNC alum to per­ish in the sec­ond World War. He was a mem­ber of the swim team, de­bate team and honor band be­fore en­list­ing at the start of the war.

Per­haps more im­pres­sive than his cre­den­tials, is the jour­ney his re­mains took to their fi­nal rest­ing place at Bland­ford Ceme­tery.

The USS Ok­la­homa was hit by two tor­pe­does shortly after fight­ing com­menced. A third crashed into the hull caus­ing it to cap­size in the har­bor. With the ship rest­ing

on the bot­tom of the har­bor, cab­ins be­low the wa­ter­line filled, drown­ing the sailors trapped inside. Their re­mains were even­tu­ally res­cued from the hull and kept un­til they could later be iden­ti­fied.

The last re­main­ing fam­ily of En­sign Thomp­son is his niece, Nancy Rube. She pro­vided a DNA sam­ple that fi­nally al­lowed the Navy to iden­tify Thomp­son’s re­mains 77 years after he per­ished. He was fi­nally buried at the ceme­tery in Septem­ber 2017.

“It was very im­pres­sive,” Rube said about the burial. “They had the bu­gle and the gun salute. There weren’t a lot of peo­ple but it was somber and ex­cit­ing that it ac­tu­ally hap­pened. My grand­mother would have been just thrilled to get to see it.”

The only re­mains re­turned were Thomp­son’s skull which was buried in a fam­ily plot.

The Honor Day also re­mem­bered Petty Of­fi­cer Hoge Cralle Veneble Jr. – whose marker is in Bland­ford Ceme­tery – and 99 other ser­vice­men from Peters­burg lost in WWII. Veneble Jr.’s re­mains are still in Navy posses­sion at Pearl Har­bor.

Seven Marines were in at­ten­dance from Fort Lee and one Air Force of­fi­cer. Eight bells were rung to honor the fallen. Eight bells sig­nify the eight stages of keep­ing watch on a ship at sea. Their ring­ing at a Navy fu­neral is a eu­phemism for, “the end of watch.”

Bill Irvin of the His­toric Peters­burg Foun­da­tion first had the idea for a Pearl Har­bor honor day when he went for a walk in Bland­ford Ceme­tery last May.

“I no­ticed among all of the burial stones that here is a fresh stone,” he said.

Irvin re­al­ized upon fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Thomp­son’s burial stone that he was stand­ing at the fi­nal rest­ing place of some­one brought home from Pearl Har­bor over 75 years later.

“I couldn’t move for five min­utes,” Irvin said.

Peters­burg’s his­tor­i­cal so­ci­eties are look­ing into do­ing more honor days like this one for hol­i­days like Me­mo­rial Day, Pa­triot’s Day and 9/11.

This was a op­por­tune mo­ment to honor Peters­burg’s fallen vet­er­ans for a tragic Amer­i­can start in the war.

“For Amer­i­cans, that day there was a change in how we knew the world and how we un­der­stood the world. The most re­cent par­al­lel would be 9/11,” Irvin said. “How you feel, how you think, your sense of safety ... Our per­cep­tion of the world was for­ever changed.”

Irvin raised the Amer­i­can Flag at the start of the pro­ceed­ings and played Taps from a bu­gle to specif­i­cally honor the newly buried ser­vice­man.

“For many peo­ple Pearl Har­bor was the day that re­minded every­one that no war is a good war. These men did their duty and it just goes back to what you see on the POW and MIA flags.

“You are not for­got­ten.”


Five Marines from Fort Lee gather at the Pearl Har­bor Honor Day ob­ser­vance for En­sign Wil­liam Man­ley Thomp­son and Petty Of­fi­cer Hoge Cralle Veneble Jr., who per­ished in the bat­tle on De­cem­ber 7, 1941.


Nancy Rube, left, the only liv­ing fam­ily mem­ber of En­sign Wil­liam Man­ley Thomp­son, stands be­hind her great-un­cle’s grave site at Bland­ford Ceme­tery on Dec. 7. Rube came from New York to take part in Peters­burg’s Pearl Har­bor Honor Day cer­e­mony.


Nancy Rube, niece of En­sign Wil­liam Man­ley Thomp­son, rings the bell at the end of the Pearl Har­bor Honor Day cer­e­mony at Bland­ford Church in Peters­burg. Thomp­son per­ished on Pearl Har­bor Day and his re­mains were buried at Bland­ford Ceme­tery in Septem­ber 2017, after Rube pro­vided a DNA sam­ple that fi­nally al­lowed the Navy to iden­tify Thomp­son’s re­mains 77 years after he per­ished.

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