PERRYTON — Private Waldean Black, a Marine lost in the 1941 Pearl Harbor Attack, was laid to rest and given full military honors on Thursday at Ochiltree Cemetery near Perryton, more than 80 years after his tragic death aboard the USS Oklahoma.
Black joined the Marines in May 1941 in Oklahoma City. He was assigned to the USS Oklahoma in September 1941, which departed for Pearl Harbor in October of the same year. During the attack on Pearl Harbor, Black perished and was among the unidentified soldiers from the USS Oklahoma that were buried in 52 mass graves in Hawaii. Following the war, these mass graves were exhumed, and only 49 men among them could be identified, with the rest being reburied in 46 mass common graves in Hawaii.
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In 2015, an official directive was passed to exhume the graves of the USS Oklahoma crew in an effort to use modern DNA analysis. With the aid of DNA testing, more than 100 of the USS Oklahoma’s crew were identified, including Black.
Multiple service agencies, government dignitaries, and surviving relatives were present at Thursday’s ceremony to honor Black, including a flyover of military planes. His long journey to his final resting place near the city where his life started was an unlikely ending for a young soldier whose remains were left unidentified until December 2018.
Bennie Guerrero, commander of VFW Post-2466 out of Lubbock, spoke about his organization’s responsibility to honor fallen soldiers.
“We are chartered to ensure that soldiers missing in action are not forgotten,” Guerrero said. “We warn the entire veteran community that a fallen soldier is coming home and tell his story.”
Guerrero said that because of COVID-19, the process of bringing Black home was delayed until now. He said they reached out to federal and state officials for letters of sympathy provided by Gov. Greg Abbott, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson.
“Imagine the family for over 80 years having a hole in their heart, because they do not know where their loved one is,” Guerrero added.
Guerrero said that when Black’s body was identified, Guerrero’s organization worked with his family for a time to bring him home.
Black was flown to Offutt Air Force Base to have his skeletal remains dressed in his dress blues and then escorted by marines from Lubbock to his final resting place in Perryton.
“We all do this to honor Black and his sacrifice for this country,” Guerrero added. “Even though we have all been discharged, our oath and hearts remain intact.”
Mikel McGuire, VFW Commander of Post 1475 located in Amarillo, reflected on the ceremony honoring Black.
McGuire said that Derek Black, Black’s nephew who attended the ceremony, was the DNA donor who helped identify his remains. During the process, Derek Black met family members whom he had never met before identifying his uncle’s remains.
“What was amazing about the ceremony was that none of the family at the ceremony had ever met Pvt. Black,” McGuire added.
Initially, Black was supposed to be transported from Lubbock with Xcel Energy prepared to line overpasses with honors for him all along the route, but the remains were diverted to Oklahoma for the ceremony.
“To watch the community come together with all the veterans’ organizations involved was an amazing testament to the commitment to honor the fallen,” McGuire said. “It was a beautiful ceremony that had a tremendous turnout to honor Black.”
McGuire stated it was pretty remarkable that they could get a military flyover with four planes, including the MIA Plane signifying the missing man pulled off from the squadron as they flew over.
According to McGuire, Perryton Mayor Kerry Symons will name April 28 Pvt. Waldean Black Day in his honor and memory.