SIOUX CITY, Iowa (Tribune News Service) – It took more than 77 years for the remains of Harry Nichols to be identified. The COVID pandemic delayed his burial by nearly three others.
But eventually, in May, the Sioux City native, killed aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, will be sent home, buried next to his parents in Memorial Park Cemetery.
“It brings closure to the family. It’s really hard to put into words,” said his nephew, Mark Nichols. “To see him laid to rest with his parents means the world.”
Storekeeper 3rd Class Harry E. Nichols was among 429 crew members of the USS Oklahoma killed in the attack, during which the battleship suffered multiple Japanese torpedo hits and quickly capsized, trapping dozens of men under the bridge.
His parents rarely spoke of their loss after the war, Mark Nichols said, and neither did his father, Norman, who was a year older than Harry.
“He said not a day went by that he didn’t think of his brother,” Mark Nichols said in a phone interview from his home in Melbourne, Florida.
Harry Nichols was the second of Ernest and Florence Nichols’ three children. Norman served in the military during World War II, returned to Sioux City after the war, and moved to California in 1973. The youngest, Betty, moved to Arizona some time later. Both died before seeing the remains of their brother identified and returned home.
Harry Nichols enlisted in the Navy in January 1941 and was assigned to the USS Oklahoma at the time of the attack on December 7, 1941. In the days following the attack, victims whose identities were at both known and unknown were buried in Honolulu. Remains recovered in 1943 after the ship’s righting were interred in mass graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, also known as Punchbowl.
In 2003, 394 crew members remained unidentified when efforts were launched to use modern technology to identify unknowns. In 2015, 388 aircrew remained unidentified, and their remains were dug up and sent to the Defense Accounting Agency POW/MIA laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, where a team of anthropologists identified 355 before the project ended last summer with only 33 that could not be individually identified.
Mark Nichols submitted a DNA sample to the Navy in 2018. The following spring, he was notified that his uncle’s remains had been identified.
“I was both excited and shocked at the same time,” said Nichols, who grew up in the Sioux City area and graduated from South Sioux City High School in 1970.
Harry Nichols’ remains were identified on May 30, 2019. A military service and burial were planned for March 2020, but COVID put an end to those plans. Mark Nichols said Navy officers met with him and his sister, Bishop Heelan graduate Nancy Eischeid, at her home in Cleveland, Tennessee, last week to resume funeral planning. Harry Nichols could have been buried in Pearl Harbor or Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, but the family decided he belonged in Sioux City.
“I just thought the right place would be with his parents,” said Mark Nichols, who served four years in the Air Force after enlisting in the fall of 1970.
Nichols, 70, said his father’s ashes would also be buried alongside Harry and their parents. As a veteran himself, Nichols said having his father and uncle back together means a lot to him.
“I know my dad and Harry sacrificed a lot,” he said.
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