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NEWS | June 11, 2021

Reserve Sailors honor USS Oklahoma veteran laid to rest 79 years later

By Cmdr. Kris Hooper, Region Southeast, Reserve Component Command-Fort Worth

Navy Mess Attendant 3rd Class Isaac Parker was stationed aboard USS Oklahoma (BB-37), a Nevada class battleship, during the surprise attacks officially beginning the United States’ involvement in World War II. Like so many of his shipmates, Parker paid the full measure of devotion to his country.

Unfortunately for his family, Parker’s body never returned for a proper burial, leaving the last page of his journey yet to be written. That changed on his 97th birthday, June 8, 2021, when Parker was rendered full military honors by Navy Reserve Sailors at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, bringing closure to a story almost 100 years in the making.

Parker’s story began in a small town, growing up as the second oldest of six children. He didn’t want to be a farmer like his father, but he did want to serve and set a good example for his three brothers and two sisters.

After graduating high school at 17, Parker knew he wanted to join the Navy. To do so underage meant he had to convince his father, Holsey Curle, a WWI Army veteran, to give permission. His father agreed and on July 31, 1941, his second oldest son joined the Navy.

“Our family has a proud history of military service.” Parker’s niece Angela Curtis said, “We were told Isaac was intelligent and wanted more opportunities than a small town could offer. He wanted to see the world and someday go to college.”

Parker’s first assignment, only five months into his enlistment, was aboard Oklahoma. The ship was moored outboard at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when attacked by Japanese aircraft. The USS Oklahoma sustained up to eight torpedo hits in rapid succession and capsized in less than 12 minutes, trapping hundreds below deck.

Many of her crew escaped and some were even able to remain in the fight, climbing aboard USS Maryland (BB-46), a Colorado class Battleship moored inboard, to help serve her anti-aircraft batteries. In the end, 429 officers and enlisted sailors were killed or missing from the Oklahoma.

Parker’s unidentified remains were buried in the 1940s as an unknown at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl in Honolulu. His mother, Pearlie Mae Parker, kept a picture in her house of Isaac and stories were passed down from generation to generation of his bravery. Their pride in his service never waned, but they never thought he would return.

A grateful nation never gave up trying to identify Isaac’s remains even though decades had passed. Through modern technologies only recently available to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s USS Oklahoma Project, fragments of Isaac’s body were positively identified on Sept. 8, 2020 by dental, anthropological and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis using samples from relatives.

The news of Isaac’s positive identification and pending return was shocking. The family started making arrangements for the burial ceremony to take place on his birthday.

“This was something Isaac’s mother always prayed for, that her child would be sent back home,” said Curtis. “It didn’t happen in her lifetime of course, so I know she’s looking down on us and really pleased he’s here in this cemetery.”

Family members and friends from around the country attended the service. Even Parker’s great-nephew, Air Force Brig. Gen. Brandon Parker, attended the ceremony via videoconference from a current deployment overseas.

Funeral honors included a 21-shot rifle volley and taps being played by the cemetery’s bugler.  Pallbearers included local Navy Reserve sailors and full-time staff from the Navy Operational Support Center, St. Louis. Members of Navy Joint Intelligence Center Detachment 0382, a local reserve unit, attended the ceremony as well as local veterans’ groups determined to honor the fallen and returned Sailor.

Boatswains Mate 1st Class Scott Linne, a Reserve Sailor from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 25, Detachment 2825, a pallbearer, summed up the mood and attitude of the participants, “There is no greater honor for us than to render honors to a fallen sailor.”

Parker was re-united with his father, mother and six other relatives also interred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, writing an appropriate ending to a once unfinished story.