Remains of sailor killed at Pearl Harbor finally buried near Kentucky home

SMITHS GROVE, Ky. — A sailor who was killed at Pearl Harbor was finally laid to rest, only minutes from his Kentucky home.

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According to a news release from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the remains of Seaman 1st Class Elmer Lawrence, who died on the USS Oklahoma on Dec. 7, 1941, were buried in Smiths Grove, Kentucky.

Lawrence was one of 429 casualties on the battleship, which was attacked by Japanese aircraft and sank quickly after suffering several hits from torpedoes.

The agency announced in June that scientists had identified Lawrence’s remains through DNA testing on Feb. 1, 2001.

Sunday’s burial at Shiloh General Baptist Cemetery in Railton brought to a close an effort by the seaman’s cousin, Nashville singer-songwriter Sheila Lawrence, to bring him home.

According to WZTV, Sheila Lawrence began her quest in 2010 when the Navy began doing DNA at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.

She even visited the Punchbowl.

“And when we drove in I started having multiple cold chills and I told Daddy he’s there,” Sheila Lawrence told the television station. “I know he is there and he said we never heard anything about that.”

According to the 1940 census, Elmer Patterson Lawrence was the oldest sibling in his family and lived with his grandparents, Tom and Martha Ann Bishop Lawrence, in Barren County, Kentucky. He was a farm laborer on his grandfather’s farm.

Elmer Lawrence was born on Aug. 16, 1916, to Cornelius William Lawrence and Minnie Elizabeth Dyer Cain. He enlisted in the Navy in Louisville in 1940. He was dating a local teacher, Marie Copas, WZTV reported.

The family’s life turned upside down after hearing about the attack at Pearl Harbor.

“It broke everybody’s heart, even though none of us, hardly any of us alive now knew him, but we knew him because they kept his memory alive,” she told the television station. “They kept Elmer with all of us.”

Elmer Lawrence would receive several awards posthumously, including a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, the Commonwealth Journal reported.

But the biggest honor would be his return to his home county.

“It was important to my dad,” Sheila Lawrence told WZTV, adding that her father had died before his brother’s remains were verified. “My dad was three years younger than Elmer and he really thought he was the bee’s knees.”

Michael Edwards, a nephew of Elmer Lawrence, was presented an American flag at Sunday’s ceremony, according to the Bowling Green Daily News. Bernadene Johnson, 93, Elmer’s cousin, also attended the ceremony, the newspaper reported.

Todd Mantioch of Rolling Thunder, an advocacy group working on behalf of POW/MIA service members, said Sunday’s funeral route began at the Hager Funeral Home in Brandenburg and wound its way to Shiloh General Baptist Cemetery, The News-Enterprise reported.

It was an emotional day for family members and friends as Elmer Lawrence’s remains were buried next to his father, who died in 1944.

“For him to set foot on Kentucky’s soil after all that time, it literally gave us chills,” Mantioch told the newspaper. “He’s going to be home, laid to rest next to his mom and dad where he was supposed to be at the age of 25, 81 years ago.”

Information from online vital records was used in this report.

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