It’s been nearly 80 years since the surprise December attack on Pearl Harbor that killed more than 2,000 service members in Hawaii, and pushed the United States into World War II — a day President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously memorialized as one that would “live in infamy.”
Paducah sailor Hal Jake Allison, a fireman second class in the U.S. Navy, was killed that day while serving on the USS Oklahoma. He was only 21 years old. All these years later, Allison’s remains have finally been identified thanks to DNA testing, and he will come home for burial at Maplelawn Park Cemetery.
It’s welcome news for Brenda Lowe, of Richmond, and Pamela Bottoms, of Lone Oak, who never met their Uncle Hal, but desired closure for the family. Their late mothers, Ina Muriel Ward and Ruby Wallace, were Allison’s sisters.
“Of course, there’s not a lot of his family left because it’s been 80 years since this happened, but this has just been something I’ve prayed about for years, thinking I wanted to bring him home,” Lowe told The Sun.
According to a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency news release, Allison had been assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma. It was at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese forces attacked. The ship was struck by torpedoes and capsized. The attack on the Oklahoma resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, and many of their remains were not identified. In recent years, the military has made efforts to identify remains through DNA testing.
The DPAA announced Tuesday that Allison was accounted for on Oct. 14.
“He died before I was born, but my whole life, I watched my little grandma on December the 7th, go into her room and cry all day long,” Lowe recalled.
“And as a kid, I thought: ‘Well, that’s kind of strange after all these years’ until I lost my own son, and that’s when I think I had this desire when this first came out about starting to do DNA (testing). I thought I owe this to my grandma and I’m going to get him home one way or another.”
According to The Sun-Democrat archives, Allison had come to Paducah with his parents from Graves County as a child, and attended Paducah schools. He had enlisted in 1939. He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart in 1943, which was received by his parents, Henry and Opal Allison, of Paducah.
On the 50th anniversary in 1991, The Paducah Sun published a short letter from Wallace, which reflected on when the Allison family got the terrible news.
It read: “Our first news about the attack came on Dec. 8, 1941. The president of the United States made a radio announcement concerning the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and his declaration of war on Japan. I remember seeing the look of total shock on the faces of my parents, Henry and Opal Allison. I realized that my brother, Fireman 2nd Class Hal Jake Allison, was stationed there aboard the USS Oklahoma.
“My mother rose from her chair and said, ‘My son is dead.’ I knew in my heart that my brother was dead. With hope in our hearts we waited every day for news of my brother. Finally, a telegram arrived with the news we all dreaded — Hal was missing in action. Weeks later, a second telegram took the last shred of hope left with the news that my brother was lost at sea and presumed dead. His family will always cherish his memory and the price he paid for our freedom.”
Bottoms noted her uncle has been a story in their family “for so many years, for so many reasons.” She and Lowe submitted their DNA years ago to help identify him.
“Of course, my grandmother never recovered from it — just like you don’t when you have a child pass away for any reason,” she told The Sun.
“She had three sons. They were all in the Navy. They all went to almost paradise places — you wouldn’t think Hawaii or Guam would be places anybody would ever get hurt, but that’s just history. You never know what’s going to happen, until it happens, and then it changes everything.”
Bottoms said her uncle was the “fun-loving one of the whole bunch,” and he was the second youngest of seven children. Her grandmother received a letter from Allison after he had already been killed, in which he talked about a big Thanksgiving dinner he had.
“He sent the menu and told how much he enjoyed the meal, and how full all of them were, and that ... they had been on leave and they were getting ready to get back on the boat, and how much he loved his family and missed everybody,” Bottoms said.
She said her mother, Ruby, had worked to get a plaque from the military to honor her brother, which is at Maplelawn Cemetery. He will be buried by his parents.
“She was like my grandmother,” Bottoms said, on her mother.
“She grieved every day, never forgot him and worked tirelessly to keep his memory alive through all of us. She knew she was ill, and she wasn’t going to leave this earth without some kind of marker for him out there at the cemetery because she wanted everybody to know — he was a part of the family and that was her brother. She worked really hard to get all that done.”
Both cousins have also visited what’s called “The Punchbowl” in Hawaii, or the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
“It was like a big cement wall that had the different names on it, and I touched his name and said a little prayer for him,” Lowe said, who visited the site years ago with her late husband.
“That’s exactly where they’re taking the ones they can’t match back, putting them back (for reinterment), and I kept saying ‘No, I don’t want my Uncle Hal back there. I want him home.’ So, thank God, it’s happening.”
A date for Allison’s memorial service is not set yet, Lowe and Bottoms said. Gov. Andy Beshear’s office announced Wednesday he will order flags lowered to half-staff in honor of Allison, on the day of his interment.
“It’s the best gift I’ve ever gotten in my life. I’ll say that because now I can feel like my whole family can rest in peace,” Lowe said.
Follow Kelly Farrell on Twitter, @KellyAFarrell11