Dr. Larry Wade displays the medals earned but his uncle, Durell Wade, who died aboard the USS Oklahoma during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. (Photo by Travis Spradling, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.)
By George Morris
Seventy-seven years after he was killed, sailor Durell Wade will finally get a proper burial. For his Baton Rouge nephew, it ends a lifetime of wondering.
“I knew that I had his name, and I knew that he died at Pearl Harbor,” said Dr. Larry Wade, 75, whose middle name is Durell. “I’d think about him a lot but never explored and tried to know more about him. He was just Uncle Durell who had been killed at Pearl.”
This spring, Wade’s family learned that the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has identified their relative’s remains, as well as others of his shipmates who died in the attack that launched the United States into World War II. Naturally, the family is grateful.
“Because his body wasn’t recovered when his immediate family was still alive, they didn’t have that resolution,” said Lauren McAdams, Larry Wade’s daughter. “Obviously, we know now it was a time of a lot of distress because there was the confusion of had he survived or had he not.”
Durell Wade, who was born in rural Calhoun County, Mississippi, in 1917, was an aviation machinist mate aboard the USS Oklahoma. He had enlisted in the Navy in 1936 and re-enlisted four years later.
Larry Wade’s research on his uncle revealed him to be a cheerful person who loved to joke and laugh. Late in her life, Durell Wade’s oldest sister, Orena, said he “loved his life aboard the USS Oklahoma (and) bragged that it could not be sunk.”
Wade, who was not married, had written home on Sept. 27, 1941, pleased to report that he had passed tests to be promoted to chief aviation machinist mate.
“In one of his letters, he mentioned his fiancée had broken up with him,” Larry Wade said. “He last saw her when he was an aviation machinist’s mate third class, and he wanted to propose to her but he knew he could not support her on the kind of income he had then. Right after that, she sent him a ‘Dear John’ letter and she married another guy. He mentions that in one of his letters.”
On Dec. 7, 1941, five torpedoes from enemy aircraft struck the battleship, which capsized in less than 12 minutes, trapping hundreds of sailors in their battle stations below deck. The attack killed 429 men on the Oklahoma.
Those who perished inside the overturned ship remained there for more than a year before the ship could be righted. Remains that were recovered were hastily buried, said Chuck Pritchard, public affairs director for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
The USS Oklahoma is turned upright at Pearl Harbor months after it capsized and sank on Dec. 7, 1941. (National Archives)
After the war ended in 1945, remains were disinterred to identify them using forensic methods available at the time. Thirty-five were identified, and the rest buried again.
In 2015, remains from the Oklahoma were disinterred for DNA testing. Family members, including Larry Wade, were contacted to provide DNA samples.
So far, 146 remains from the Oklahoma have been identified. It’s a tiny fraction of the roughly 72,000 unaccounted-for military losses from World War II, but it’s meaningful to each family, Pritchard said.
Larry Wade, Lauren McAdams and her husband, Brendan McAdams, met with Navy representatives on Aug. 2 at the American Legion Nicholson Post 38 hall, where they received an inch-thick notebook that included details of how the DPAA identified his remains. The notebook also had copies of letters between the Navy and family members that revealed something living family members never knew – that the family erroneously had been told that Durell Wade had survived before authorities confirmed his death.
“That stirred the family up quite a lot,” Larry Wade said.
The Navy will pay to have Durell Wade’s remains returned and buried, and the funeral is set for Dec. 7 — the 77th anniversary of his death — at North Mississippi Veterans’ Memorial Park in Kilmichael, Mississippi.
“I have his name and my grandson has his name, but still, Uncle Durell was just an idea from Pearl Harbor,” Larry Wade said. “I’ve learned a lot about him (by) reading and talking to family members. He’s come much more alive as a person.”