The family of a World War II U.S. Navy sailor killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor will finally be able to lay him to rest after officials identified his remains. He was previously buried in a mass grave in Hawaii.
Texas native, Seaman 1st Class George Anderson Coke Jr. was killed in action in the “Day of Infamy,” December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor without warning. The Arlington High School graduate served on the USS Oklahoma. While the great battleship survived the attack, 429 of her crew did not. Seaman Coke died in the attack and Navy officials buried him in a mass grave with his crewmates, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
More than 75 years later, Coke returns to his Arlington, Texas, family after being recently identified.
Doland Maner, 94, is one of the few remaining people who knew Coke personally. Most simply remember his through family tales.
“We weren’t buddies,” Maner told the Fort Worth newspaper. “But he was an all-American boy. He was into a lot of devilment, but if you didn’t like George Anderson, you didn’t like anybody.”
One of his family members, 73-year-old Milton Coke said the young Sailor was a celebrated boxer at Arlington High School. The family still has his medals earned in the ring.
“George was an athlete his whole life,” Coke told the reporter. “The family lore is that they had a Pacific Fleet boxing championship and George won his in his weight class — 156 pounds.”
Cole joined the Navy less than a year before the now-famous attack on Pearl Harbor. The early morning attack came just days after his 19th birthday. A Japanese torpedo ripped a hole in the Oklahoma. The ship’s wound caused her to capsize and resulted in the deaths of 429 Sailors.
The family first learned that Cole might be returning home eight years ago when Navy personnel called and requested a DNA sample. In 2015, the Department of Defense released the news they were working on identifying the remains of those who died on the Oklahoma.
Finally, in December, the Navy announced they had identified Cole’s remains.
The family debated about returning him to Texas for burial or having him buried “where he fell” alongside his crewmates in a new marked grave.
“Military tradition is very strong that you have to be buried where you fell, but I made the decision to bring him back,” Coke’s cousin, Milton Coke of George told the local newspaper. Milton Coke is designated as the closest living relative. “He was my father’s little brother.”
PBS reported on the project to identify the remains of USS Oklahoma Sailors.
Seaman 1st Class George Anderson Cole Jr. will be laid to rest alongside his father, George A. “Dutch” Coke Sr., and his mother, Juliana Jane Tomlin Coke. She is believed to be the person who purchased a headstone memorializing her son’s death which has held a spot for him for 76 years. He will be buried with full military honors.