Ketchikan War Hero's Remains Were Identified After Over 60 Years
By DAVE KIFFER
December 18, 2008
Irvin Andrew Rubin Thompson was an Ensign on the USS Oklahoma when it was sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
The Oklahoma was one of five battleships seriously damaged or destroyed in the attack. Most of the damage to the Oklahoma was from five torpedo hits that caused the ship to capsize with the bottom of the hull protruding from the water. Several dozen crew members were rescued by crews cutting through the hull more than 30 hours after the attack a story told in the book "Escape From Pearl Harbor" by Oklahoma crewman Steven Bower Young but Thompson was not among the fortunate ones.
The Navy managed to "right" the ship a little over three months after the attack and many remains were found within the hull but nearly all were unidentifiable with the methods of the time.
The 429 casualties on the Oklahoma were second only to the 1,177 who died on the USS Arizona in the attack. The Oklahoma was put in dry dock until 1944 when it was decided it was not "repairable" and sold for scrap.
It was being towed to San Francisco on May 17, 1947 when it sank in a storm 540 miles east of Pearl Harbor.
For more than 60 years, Thompson's remains remained unidentified, until a modern researcher helped identify them. Eighty-seven year old Ray Emory was a survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack and has been working to decades to identify Pearl Harbor's "unknowns."
After the attack, only 36 of the 429 sailors and marines were positively identified. The rest were put into mass graves at the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl near Honolulu.
"An independent researcher (Emory) had concluded, using archives and documents available to the public that he had identified a serviceman in one of the graves marked unknown," Defense Department official Larry Greer told the New Jersey Star-Ledger on September 5, 2008. "We exhumed the coffin and actually found the remains of 31 individuals, identifying three of them."
Rudd Smith, Lloyd Salt, Ralph Homan, Abraham Hagiwara, Irvin Thompson. Bill Race, Peter Zorich, Roif Steberg. Bill Robertson. Bill Tatsuda. Tom Davies, Mark Bussanich, Bill Wikstrom. Russell Carhon, Wesley Sande, David Dibrell, Harry Elliott, Clinton Johnson, Ted Blandov, Mr. Schoel, Art Nelson, Clyde Johnson.
Photo courtesy Ketchikan Museums
But while Thompson was born in Weehawken, New Jersey in 1917, he had spent most of his life in Ketchikan.
The Ketchikan Chronicle reported in on Dec. 16, 1941, that Thompson's family had moved to Ketchikan in 1922 and that he had graduated from Ketchikan High School in 1935. He then spent a year at the University of Washington in Seattle before being appointed to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Merta (Smith) Kiffer lived across First Avenue from the Thompson family. She says she remembers Irvin who was tall and dark haired and three years ahead of her at Kayhi.
Andrew Thompson worked for the city highway department. Kiffer also said that Mrs. Thompson was related the Schlais family.
Thompson's father was in Seattle with an unspecified illness, according to the Ketchikan Chronicle. Mrs. Thompson and the rest of the family joined him there in early 1942.
Kiffer said that Mr. Thompson died shortly afterwards and the Thompson family never returned to Ketchikan.
Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941
Rescue teams at work on the capsized hull of USS Oklahoma (BB-37), seeking crew members trapped inside, 7 December 1941. The starboard bilge keel is visible at the top of the upturned hull. Officers' Motor Boats from Oklahoma and USS Argonne (AG-31) are in the foreground. USS Maryland (BB-46) is in the background.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
The Department of Defense determined that Thompson's closest living relative was a cousin living in California and reburied his remains November 14 at the Sacramento National Cemetery in Dixon, California.
Greer said the cousin requested anonymity.
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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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Contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org