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Remains of another Kentucky sailor, Ulis Steely, identified; killed in attack on Pearl Harbor

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

The remains of another Kentucky sailor killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, have been identified after many years of being listed as unknown.

According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Ulis C. Steely, 25, of Corbin, was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft.

The Oklahoma sustained multiple torpedo hits, which caused it to quickly capsize. The attack resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, including Steely.

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 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 Oklahoma at that time and reburied the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.

In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as non-recoverable, including Steely.

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

To identify Steely’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental, DNA and anthropological analysis. 

Steely will be buried Oct. 5, in his hometown of Corbin, and Gov. Matt Bevin will order flags lowered to half-staff in his honor on that date.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war.

Currently there are 72,674 still unaccounted for from World War II, of which approximately 30,000 are assessed as possibly recoverable. Steely’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with the others who are missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

Steely is the fourth native Kentuckian who died aboard the Oklahoma during the Pearl Harbor attack and whose remains have been identified, since 2017.

Fireman 1st Class Billy J. Johnson, 22, of Caney, in Morgan County, was identified in July and was to be buried in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Fireman 1st Class Samuel W. Crowder was buried with full military honors, December 9, 2017 in Louisville, following identification by DNA analysis.

Seaman First Class Millard Burk, Jr., of Pikeville, had his remains identified in June and was re-buried at the Punchbowl in July.

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One Comment

  1. Richard Innes says:

    It’s seems somehow particularly ironic and sad that while we honor this fallen Pearl Harbor victim, Kentucky’s new public school social studies standards never mention Pearl Harbor or a whole lot of other events where Americans died. That includes no mention in the new standards of the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia and the more recent fighting in the Middle East. By law, the POW flag that came into use during the Vietnam conflict flies in every Kentucky interstate highway rest stop but our children might never learn what that flag, and the conflict it arose from, are all about. This needs to change.

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