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Remains of Pearl Harbor sailors return home after 77 years

HONOLULU — More than 75 years after nearly 2,400 members of the U.S. military were killed in the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, some who died on Dec. 7, 1941, are finally being laid to rest in cemeteries across the United States.

In 2015, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency exhumed nearly 400 sets of remains from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii after determining advances in forensic science and genealogical help from families could make identifications possible. They were all on the USS Oklahoma, which capsized during the attack, and had been buried as unknowns after the war.

Altogether, 429 sailors and Marines on the Oklahoma were killed. Only 35 were identified in the years immediately after the attack. The Oklahoma’s casualties were second only to the USS Arizona, which lost 1,177 men.

As of earlier this month, the agency has identified 186 sailors and Marines from the Oklahoma who were previously unidentified.

Slowly, the remains are being sent to be reburied in places like Traer, Iowa, and Ontanogan, Mich.

Here’s a look at some of those who have either already been reburied this year or who will be interred today:

William Bruesewitz

Renate Starck has been pondering the eulogy she’ll give at the funeral for her uncle, Navy Seaman 1st Class William Bruesewitz, on Friday.

“We always have thought of him on Dec. 7,” she said. “He’s already such a big part of that history.”

Bruesewitz, of Appleton, Wis., will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. “It’s a real blessing to have him returning and we’ve chosen Arlington because we feel he’s a hero and belongs there,” Starck said.

About 50 family members from Wisconsin, Florida, Arkansas and Maryland will attend.

“We were too young to know him but we’re old enough that we felt his loss,” Starck said. “We know some stories. There’s this stoicness about things from that time that kept people from talking about things that hurt.”

Bruesewitz’s mother died in childbirth when he was 6 or 7, Starck said. Her father and Bruesewitz were close brothers. When Bruesewitz was 14, they built barns in Wisconsin, Starck said. They were educated in Lutheran schools.

William Kvidera

Hundreds of people filled a Catholic church in Traer, Iowa, in November for William Kvidera’s funeral.

The solemn ceremony in his hometown included full military honors, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported.

“It’s something like a dream,” his brother, John Kvidera, 91, said.

John Kvidera was 14 when he found out about the bombings at Pearl Harbor and remembers huddling around a radio to find out what was going on. The family initially received a telegram saying William, the oldest of six siblings, was missing in action.

A telegram in February 1943 notified the family of his death.

Leon Arickx

More than 76 years after he died, the remains of Navy Seaman 1st Class Leon Arickx were buried on a brilliant summer day at a small cemetery amid the cornfields of northern Iowa.

Hundreds gathered in July for Arickx’s graveside service at Sacred Heart Cemetery outside Osage, Iowa, in a sparsely populated farming region just south of Minnesota, where Arickx grew up. Among them was his niece, Janice Schonrock, who was a baby when Arickx died.

“My family talked about him all that time,” said Schonrock, 77. “I felt I knew him because everyone talked about him.”

Although they didn’t have Arickx’s remains, his family held a memorial service and placed a grave marker at Sacred Heart Cemetery in 1942. When his remains were finally returned, they were buried at a site not far away.

Schonrock said her family appreciates the work it took to identify her uncle, but she believes it’s essential to identify as many service members as possible.

“I think we need to honor these people who give their lives to our country and bring them back to their home country where they can be close to family who can honor them,” she said. “No one should be left behind.”

Durell Wade

Wade was born in 1917 in the Hardin Town community of rural Calhoun County, Miss. He enlisted in the Navy in 1936 and in 1940 re-enlisted for another two-year tour.

His burial in his home state was originally planned for a weekend, when it would be more convenient for people to attend. But because of scheduling conflicts at the North Mississippi Veterans Memorial Cemetery, his family decided the 77th anniversary of the attack would be an appropriate date, even if some people have to take time off, said his nephew, Dr. Lawrence Wade.

He was one of the sailor’s relatives who provided DNA to help identify him.

“My middle name is his name, Durell. My grandson has that name also,” said the 75-year-old retired psychiatrist from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “I’d gone through my life not really knowing anything about him, other than I carried his name and he was killed at Pearl Harbor. Once this DNA process came along and made it possible to identify his remains, it just made him much more of a real person to me.”

Wade’s siblings included four older sisters and one older brother, according to a bio prepared by his nephew. The Wade children were educated by two teachers hired by their parents to live in the home and teach them until a community school was built on donated property. Wade had written home in September 1941 that he had just taken promotion tests from Aviation Machinist Mate 2nd Class to Chief Aviation Machinist Mate.

His nephew has been planning his funeral. A gospel singer will sing the national anthem. Bagpipes will play. Pilots will conduct a flyover. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and Capt. Brian Hortsman, commanding officer of Naval Air Station Meridian, will make remarks.


Marc Wehrs / Associated Press 

In this Dec. 7, 1941, file photo, part of the hull of the capsized USS Oklahoma is seen at right as the battleship USS West Virginia, center, begins to sink after sustaining heavy damage, while the USS Maryland, left, is still afloat in Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii.


Politics
AP
N.C. race shines light on 'ballot harvesting'

HELENA, Mont. — An investigation into whether political operatives in North Carolina illegally collected and possibly stole absentee ballots in a still-undecided congressional race has drawn attention to a widespread but little-known political tool called ballot harvesting.

It’s a practice long used by special-interest groups and both major political parties that is viewed either as a voter service that boosts turnout or a nefarious activity that subjects voters to intimidation and makes elections vulnerable to fraud.

The groups rely on data showing which voters requested absentee ballots but have not turned them in. They then go door-to-door and offer to collect and turn in those ballots for the voters — often dozens or hundreds at a time. Some place ballot-collection boxes in high-concentration voter areas, such as college campuses, and take the ballots to election offices when the boxes are full.

In North Carolina, election officials are investigating whether Republican political operatives harvested ballots in parts of the 9th Congressional District with high numbers of Democratic voters and then did not turn them in to the local elections office. Ballot harvesting is illegal under state law, which allows only a family member or legal guardian to drop off absentee ballots for a voter.

The investigation is focusing on areas in the district where an unusually high number of absentee ballots were not returned.

Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, but the state elections board has refused to certify the results. The head of the state Republican Party said Thursday that he would be open to holding a new election if there is evidence of fraud.

Supporters of ballot harvesting say they worry the North Carolina election may give an important campaign tool an unnecessary black eye. These groups see their mission as helping voters who are busy with work or caring for children, and empowering those who are sick, elderly and poor. Collecting ballots to turn in at a centralized voting hub also has been an important tool for decades on expansive and remote Native American reservations.

“Sometimes we think of voting as this really straightforward process and we often forget that all voters, but for new voters in particular, there’s a lot of confusion when voting about when they actually have to vote by, where they have to take their ballot to,” said Rachel Huff-Doria, executive director of the voter advocacy group Forward Montana.

Several states have tried to limit ballot harvesting by restricting who can turn in another person’s ballot. In Arizona, a video that showed a volunteer dropping off hundreds of ballots at a polling place prompted a debate that led to an anti-ballot harvesting law in 2016.

“I think at any level, Republican, Democrat or anything, it’s wrong. It’s a terrible practice,” said former Arizona Republican Party chairman Robert Graham, who backed the law. “People should be responsible for their own votes.”

The Arizona law making it a felony in most cases to collect an early ballot was challenged in federal court before the 2016 election, and blocked by an appeals court. The U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and allowed the law to be enforced.

Further challenges have so far been unsuccessful, most recently just before the midterm election.

Montana was the latest state to pass an anti-ballot harvesting law when voters approved a referendum last month. Al Olszewski, a Republican state senator, said he proposed the ban after two of his constituents in northwestern Montana complained of pushy ballot collectors coming to their homes.

“For a woman in her 70s that’s maybe frail and lives alone and feels intimidated, at least now they can say please leave” and have confidence that the law is behind them, he said.

Voting-rights advocates are dismayed that such laws are being passed without evidence of actual ballot fraud happening, at least before questions were raised about the activities in the North Carolina congressional race. They say restricting who can collect ballots punishes certain voters without doing anything to actually detect, deter or punish fraud.

“If you have an honest person who is trying to help voters, then who they are doesn’t matter as long as they return (the ballot),” said Myrna Perez, the deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s democracy program.