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Sailor killed in 1941 Pearl Harbor attack identified; service set Sept. 23 at Dale Cemetery

The Shawnee News-Star
James Cecil Webb

An Oklahoma sailor who was killed during World War II in 1941 but formally identified and accounted for in 2019 through DNA analysis will be laid to rest at Dale Cemetery in Pottawatomie County on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced that Navy Fireman 1st Class James C. Webb, 23, of Hobart, Oklahoma, killed during World War II, was accounted for on July 29, 2019.

James was born on November 26, 1918 to Milton L. Webb and Emma L. Webb Millican in Hobart, Oklahoma.

Fireman 1st Class James Cecil Webb enlisted in the U.S. Navy on January 30, 1940 in Little Rock, Arkansas and reported for duty aboard the USS Oklahoma on June 13, 1940.  As part of the effort to check Japanese aggression, the U.S. Pacific Fleet conducted exercises in the waters off Hawaii beginning in May 1940.  

After the maneuvers, the fleet remained in Pearl Harbor, Oahu to provide more of a forward presence than was possible from the U.S. West Coast. USS Oklahoma (BB-37) arrived in Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1940, one year and one day prior to the fateful attack, and spent the next several months participating in exercises and conducting patrols. 

On December 7, 1941, Webb was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft. The USS Oklahoma sustained multiple torpedo hits, which caused it to quickly capsize. The attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, including Webb.

From December 1941 to June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased crew, which were subsequently interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries.

In September 1947, tasked with recovering and identifying fallen U.S. personnel in the Pacific Theater, members of the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks. The laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identifications of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma at that time. The AGRS subsequently buried the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP), known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as non-recoverable, including Webb.

Between June and November 2015, DPAA personnel exhumed the USS Oklahoma Unknowns from the Punchbowl for analysis.

To identify Webb’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y-chromosome DNA (Y-STR) analysis.

DPAA is grateful to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of the Navy for their partnership in this mission.

Webb’s name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with the others who are still missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

At the time of Webb’s passing his father, Milton L. Webb was deceased; and survivors included his mother, Emma L. Webb Millican; two brothers, Ralph and Edna Webb of Fresno, CA and Raymond and Inez Webb of Lone Wolf, OK; five sisters, Velma and O.W. Coffman of Alma, AR, Arrie “Dott” & Roy Ashworth of Oklahoma City, OK, Mildred and Kenneth Henderson of Amarillo, TX, Clara and Crate Evans of Hobart, OK and Leota and Asa Millican of Oklahoma City, OK.  Today he is survived by numerous nieces and nephews, including his nephew and spouse, Bill and Addileen Ashworth of Shawnee.

For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website at www.dpaa.mil, find them on social media at www.facebook.com/dodpaa or call (703) 699-1420/1169.

A graveside Memorial Service will be 2 p.m., Wednesday, September 23, 2020 at Dale Cemetery with nephew, Reverend Bill Ashworth and great-nephew, Lynn Ashworth officiating under the direction of Cooper Funeral Home of Tecumseh.  

Please join the celebration of James’s life through Cooper Funeral Home’s Facebook page for live streaming of the service. 

To share memories, or to sign the guest book online, go to www.cooperfuneral.com.