- About Us
Willard Henry AldridgeAugust 26, 1921 ~ December 7, 1941 (age 20)
Willard Henry Aldridge was born on the Aldridge farm north of Sitka, Kansas on August 26, 1921. Willard was the sixth child out of 10 born to John Frances Aldridge and Zola Irene (Claypool) Aldridge. All of Willard’s brothers and sisters have passed. His closet living relatives are nephews Ray Sumners (CO), Richard Aldridge (TX) Gary Aldridge (KS), Marvin May (OK), Robert Aldridge (IN), and niece Sue Berryman (CO).
Willard helped his father on the farm until 1940 at which time Willard decided to enlist into the United State Navy. He enlisted in Great Bend, Kansas for a period of 6 years. Following his enlistment he was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, Illinois.
Upon completion of training Willard was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma on October 12, 1940. Willard was advanced in rank from Seaman to Seaman second class on November 25, 1940 and again promoted to Seaman first class on July 1, 1941.
The USS Oklahoma conducted exercises and patrolled the waters off the Hawaiian coast to check Japanese aggression in and around the American theater.
On the morning of 7 December 1941, a fleet of Japanese carriers launched formations of dive bombers, torpedo planes, and fighters against naval vessels moored in the shallows of Pearl Harbor. The attack decimated the ships and personnel of the fleet and took the United States into World II. At the beginning of the attack, the USS Oklahoma was berthed beside the USS Maryland in “Battleship Row” off Ford Island. The first torpedo hit the ship just before 0800 hours. The USS Oklahoma sustained 429 casualties, quickly capsizing due to the extensive damage sustained from multiple torpedo hits. Seaman first class Willard Aldridge was listed among the casualties compiled two weeks after the attack. From 9 December 1941 through 27 June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of deceased crewmen and the remains were comingled and buried in two different military cemeteries in Honolulu. The remains were interred as “unknowns”.
Willard Henry Aldridge was identified as “non-recoverable” on 7 October 1949. In 2003, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command disinterred a single casket of unknowns from the USS Oklahoma that was thought to contain five remains of individuals, but in reality contained partial remains of almost one hundred crew members of the Oklahoma. This resulted in high level negotiations between the Department of Defense and Service Secretaries, and agencies responsible for accounting for service members from past conflicts.
In 2009, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/MIA Personnel Affairs directed no more disinterments of unknowns until all records on the non-recoverable were assembled and a search for family members could be completed. Living family members provided DNA samples. The remains were then analyzed by morphology by anthropologists and matched with mitochondrial DNA samples. In 2013, DNA samples were provided to the US Navy by his sister Ethel (Aldridge) McCauly, Ethel’s daughter Alice Lindamood, Richard Aldridge and Raymond Sumners.
Identification of most of Willard’s remains allows for his return and will be reburied with full Military Honors in the Highland Cemetery in Ashland, Kansas on May 26, 2018, with his parents, grandparents, and other family members. Willard’s decorations include the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, American Defense Medal w/one battle star, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/one battle star, and World War II Victory Medal. After 77 years, Willard is home from the war.
Willard Aldridge VFW Post 7770
PO Box 303, Ashland KS 67831