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Sailor killed in Pearl Harbor identified and buried after 80 years

A family was able to properly bury their sailor, almost 80 years after his death.
Updated: May. 31, 2021 at 5:37 PM EDT
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ASHLAND, Ky. (WSAZ) - After nearly 80 years of being unaccounted for from World War II, Navy Radioman 3rd Class Thomas E. Griffith of Dayton, Ohio, was identified on April 21, 2020.

The sailor was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft on Dec. 7, 1941.

The ship sustained multiple hits by torpedoes, causing it to quickly capsize. The attack on the boat resulted in the death of 429 crewmen, including Griffith.

His family affectionately referred to him as Eddie.

“Eddie was a great person,” said his sister. “He spoke fluent German and he could play music. He was just a good kid.”

Younger sister Betty was 7 years old when her parents struggled to break the difficult news to her. She says she remembers her brother through a child’s eyes.

Their mother never gave up hope on finding Eddie, spending her time sending letters to the military searching for answers. Eventually, the family assumed he had been swept away at sea when the military told them his remains were considered non-recoverable.

“I never dreamed this day would ever come,” said sister Betty Joe Griffith Price. “We all just thought that he was washed away at sea, and we’d never be able to get anything about it. So this has all been a big, good surprise.”

Then, on April 21, 2020, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced that Griffith was accounted for, thanks to advancements in DNA technology.

He was buried May 21, 2021 at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

His sister, who lives in Ashland, was able to attend the ceremony and received the U.S. flag commemorative of her brother’s service.

She says she remembers being approached by another service member who told her “in a way, he was my Navy brother too. We don’t leave our brothers behind if there’s any way at all, that we can bring them home.”

The experience has allowed Betty a chance to heal, grieve, gain closure and even peace.

It was good, we found out a lot had a lot of questions answered and now we understand more what happened to Eddie

Betty Joe Griffith Price

According to the DPAA, Griffith’s name is listed on the Walls of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with others who are missing from WWII. A rosette will now be placed next to his name to indicate he’s been accounted for.

She says Eddie was patriotic to his core, reciting his favorite phrase as young as seventh grade: “If the flag is not worth fighting for, it’s not worth living under.”

The attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2,403 U.S. personnel, including 68 civilians, and destroyed or damaged 19 U.S. Navy ships, including 8 battleships.

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