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A Pearl Harbor sailor has finally been laid to rest with honors after 8 decades

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

A Navy sailor who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor is finally home. Now, eight decades later, family and community members came to a memorial service in Paducah, Ky., to lay Hal Jake Allison to rest. He hadn't been identified until a few months ago. Derek Operle of member station WKMS was at the ceremony.

DEREK OPERLE, BYLINE: Two hundred people showed up for the service as a bagpiper played "My Old Kentucky Home."

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAYING BAGPIPES)

OPERLE: Navy Fireman 2nd Class Hal Jake Allison received full military honors and was buried alongside his parents after a decades-long wait. Allison was just 20 when he was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, one of the first ships hit by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. This past October, his body was identified after several family members, including his niece Pamela Bottoms, submitted DNA.

PAMELA BOTTOMS: So now when I go out and put flowers - I do it for every occasion - now he'll be there. And we've had an empty grave out there for him this entire time, and I just cannot believe - it's a miracle. It's a miracle that he's home.

OPERLE: No one at this funeral had ever met Allison, but people showed up anyway to pay respects. Veterans, local officials - an area historian brought the original telegram Allison's family received notifying them about their missing son. Kathy Peeler brought a box of love letters from Allison to her mother. She hopes the letters bring the family closer to him.

KATHY PEELER: If I had not passed them on to people related to Hal, when I passed, nobody would know who these belong to. Now they do. And I hope that it brings to life an era that's so long ago now.

OPERLE: For Sandi Reid, Allison's great-niece, the experience of laying him to rest was moving and necessary.

SANDI REID: I think our family was just able to always keep his name alive. It's important to me. It's important to my kids. And that's been passed down, you know, from my grandmother that kept his picture up in her entryway my entire life. You know, I grew up with him always being there and the stories. And so we did know him, you know?

OPERLE: In all, 2,400 U.S. service members and civilians died in Pearl Harbor. Now, with Allison back home, 33 others from the USS Oklahoma remain unidentified. They're buried in a military cemetery in Honolulu. For NPR News, I'm Derrick Operle in Paducah, Ky.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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