An Aurora radioman killed during the Pearl Harbor attack has at last been accounted for and will return home to be buried in Batavia.
U.S. Navy Petty Officer Second Class Walter Howard Backman, then 22, was among 429 crewmen aboard the USS Oklahoma killed in the early morning hours of Dec. 7, 1941, after the ship quickly capsized from numerous torpedo hits.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Navy personnel needed three years to recover the remains of those who perished, interring them in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries in Hawaii. Only 35 men were identified out of the 429 killed.
Backman was among the nearly 400 sailors buried as Unknowns in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.
In 2015, as part of the USS Oklahoma Project, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency exhumed all of the unknown remains from the USS Oklahoma, and began the lengthy identification process.
Backman’s remains were identified as recovered on Aug. 7, 2017.
Jacob Zimmerman, superintendent of the Veterans Assistance Commission of Kane County, said Backman’s remains will be buried next to the memorial stone that bears his name at River Hills Memorial Park in Batavia.
“I applaud the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for the job they do ensuring that America’s sons and daughters who made the ultimate sacrifice, are brought home to be laid to rest,” Zimmerman said. “The work they do not just at Pearl Harbor, but all around the world is nothing short of remarkable.”
Interment services are pending; a formal notification will be released seven to 10 days prior to scheduled funeral services, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said.
Heroes’ Lives Still Matter
Though the attacks on the USS Oklahoma happened 76 years ago, the effects on family members are still felt nationwide. Service members came from all walks of life, much like service members today. Their hometowns spanned from California to New Hampshire, and Washington to Florida.
Following each disinterment, recovered remains were sent to the DPAA laboratory in Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, for analysis. An anthropological inventory was taken of each casket, 13,000 skeletal elements were inventoried and 5,000 DNA samples were submitted to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory for DNA processing.
Thanks to the efforts of the DPAA, we know a little bit about the life of Walter Howard Backman.
According to official documents and newspaper accounts, he was born in 1919 in Walton, ND, to a farming family who moved to Aurora shortly after his 1938 enlistment in the Navy.
His last known address was 444 Spruce St. Aurora, IL. His last rank was Petty Officer Second Class and he served from 1938 to 1941.
A Purple Heart was awarded to his mother, August F. Backman, along with two other Aurora sailors, at the annual convention of the Illinois Department of the Purple Heart and its auxiliary in Aurora.
In 1991, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, Backman’s sister, Mickie Griggs, wrote a guest column for the Abilene Reporter-News under the headline “Pearl Harbor Changed Our Lives Forever.”
In the article (embedded below), Griggs recalls assurances that the radio compartment of the USS Oklahoma “was immediately submerged and the men could not have lasted more than a half-hour.”
She remembered when “the dreaded yellow telegram” arrived with the “regret to inform you” message.
And she remembered visiting the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific near Honolulu, where 22,000 graves of war dead filled the Punchbowl Crater, and where she and her husband were able to find the name of her brother: WALTER HOWARD BACKMAN, U.S. NAVY.
Now, at last, Backman’s remains will return home, to a final resting place that bears his name.
Backman’s name is also recorded on the Walls of the Missing at an American Battle Monuments Commission site along with the others who are missing from World War II. There, a rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate that, at last, he has been accounted for.
SOURCE: www.dpaa.mil, Kane County Veterans Assistance Commission