We walked in the snow, squinting against the early winter sun, moving past the headstones in one of the older cemeteries in our town. Small talk wound down as we approached our destination. We stopped, and greeted the reporter who met us there for the event. Austin opened the small bag of black river stones, and each student picked one to write a message onto.
We approached the grave. Well, it is not really a grave, you see—a nineteen year old kid’s body lies somewhere back in Hawaii, at a place called Pearl Harbor. His parents lay just to the south of this marker, passing on 14 and 18 years later. The kid’s body was never properly identified. He lies in a mass grave somewhere else, far, far away.
And here in his hometown, there is not even a flag on his marker. Why should there be? As far as I know, there is no immediate close family left here to tend to his stone, and he is not even here.
But we buy a flag, and Paige affixes it to the holder.
Paige holds the 1942 yearbook senior class dedication, and I pull out a copy of his photograph, and say a few words.
Seventy-five years after his death, after his parents’ pain and anguish at the telegram announcing he was ‘missing in action’, after his classmates’ angst that following June at graduating without him into the new world of 1942, where so many of them would go on to fight and die along with him, a bunch of kids from his high school return. The 17 and 18 year olds are on the cusp of entering a new world themselves, along with them the 55 year old man who was once also a young graduate-to-be of Hudson Falls High School.
We come to remember, and to set down our memorial stones.
The kids speak to the reporter, and we pose for one last picture.
We are here for all of 15 minutes before the bus has to return to the school to make another run, due to parent-teacher conferences at the elementary level. It is quick, a surgical tactical strike in an overly crowded and rushed school day; some might say, hardly worth the effort.
You wonder if the lesson will stay with them.
They leave this cemetery, some certainly forever, to go out into the world, having paid their respects to the boy from Hudson Falls whose future ended on December 7th, 1941.
Glens Falls Post-Star report, 12-7-2017 below, and with more pics here
‘One of Their Own’
Local sailor who died at Pearl Harbor remembered by teacher, students
From the Remembering Pearl Harbor, 75 years later series
by BILL TOSCANO firstname.lastname@example.org
HUDSON FALLS — On a windy Tuesday morning, in a snow-covered cemetery, Matt Rozell’s history class took a somber turn.
Rozell and about 25 Hudson Falls High School seniors stood in the fresh snow at a memorial stone that read, “H. Randolph Holmes,” followed by the words, “Died in action at Pearl Harbor,” “Age 19 yrs” and “U.S. Navy.”
Holmes had been a student in Hudson Falls’ Class of 1942 but left school early, joined the Navy and was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
“We wanted to make sure we didn’t forget Randy,” Rozell told the group, which had taken a quick bus ride on Route 4 to the Moss Street Cemetery. “Especially you in the Class of 2017 because it’s the 75th anniversary of the year he should have graduated.”
Holmes was aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma during the attack and was one of 429 men killed when the ship was struck and capsized. Like many of the sailors on the Oklahoma, his body was not recovered for 18 months and has never been identified. Holmes was buried, with the other “unknown” Oklahoma sailors, in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the “Punchbowl.”
Several years ago, one of Rozell’s students located Holmes’ name on the memorial to those who died on the Oklahoma.
Two of Rozell’s students said Tuesday they had no idea a former Hudson Falls student had died at Pearl Harbor.
“I had no clue,” said Alex Prouty, who went on to talk about what she and her classmates had
learned about the attack. “We learned that there was a loss of a lot of lives and that a lot of people went missing. No one was prepared for it, and our military did the best they could to protect us.”
Jacob Fabian said he learned about Holmes in class as well.
“Before class, no, I didn’t know anything, but now, yes, because of Mr. Rozell’s book,” Fabian said. “We learned a lot about Pearl Harbor, what its effects were, why and how it happened and how monumental it was.”
“This year’s yearbook is also going to have a page for Randy,” said Rozell, who has written two books on World War II and is working on several more. “It’s important for us to remember him.”
Holmes may yet come home.
Five formerly “unknown” sailors from the USS Oklahoma were identified in January, using medical records. The identifications are the first to come from a project that began in April 2015 when the Defense Department announced plans to exhume an estimated 388 of the Oklahoma’s unknowns.
The first exhumations took place June 8, 2015, and the last four caskets were dug up Nov. 9, 2015.
Sixty-one caskets were retrieved from 45 graves. The caskets were heavily corroded and had to be forced open.
The remains were removed and cleaned and photographed. The skeletons were flown to the lab in Nebraska for further analysis, but skulls were retained in Hawaii, where the Defense Department’s forensic dentists are based.
Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.
As of Nov. 30, the Pentagon says it has ID’d 21 of the 388 unknowns.
You can see the news releases here. Hopefully someday they’ll ID Randy Holmes …
A highly recommended PBS video is below.