Soldier who died on USS Oklahoma buried
ADA — Under a gray November sky, a man killed 75 years ago aboard the USS Oklahoma was finally laid to rest next to his parents.
The remains of Pvt. Vernon Paul "Buck" Keaton, 18, were interred Thursday afternoon at Lula Cemetery in Pontotoc County. About 75 people attended the funeral at the small cemetery southeast of Ada.
The casket was escorted to its final resting place by members of the Patriot Guard on motorcycle.
Among Keaton's family members were veterans who joined the Marines in saluting Vernon as his remains were carried to the graveside.
“It is with pride and a sense of peace that we say to … one of America's children, welcome home,” the Rev. Dale Smith said.
After the attendees lifted their heads from a prayer, the flag was lifted from the casket, and seven Marines gave a three-volley salute to one of their own.
Taps was played before the flag was folded and presented to Keaton's nearest living relative, Sandra Sue Lewis, 78, of Weleetka.
The Marines presented the flag to Lewis, who was also offered words and gifts from members of the Patriot Guard and the Marine Corps League.
Lewis lived in the same home with Keaton, but was only 2 years old when he enlisted. She has no memories of him.
“His mom and dad raised me,” Lewis said. “I'm just glad he's home.”
“It's a surprise that it really happened. But I'm proud,” she said.
Keaton had left his home in Lubbock, Texas, shortly after coming of age, and died when Japanese warplanes attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He, along with 428 of his shipmates, died when the USS Oklahoma was sunk.
Keaton's remains remained underwater until the ship was raised in 1947. Recent DNA testing allowed the remains to be identified, and Keaton's recovered bones arrived at Will Rogers World Airport on Tuesday night.
The wind whipped the flag wrapping a casket as a U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard carried the remains plane and placed them inside a waiting hearse. In the distance, airport firefighters gave a water cannon salute as the plane taxied to the terminal.
Inside the casket, the recovered bones of Keaton lie in their anatomical position beneath a blue U.S. Marine Corps uniform.
Keaton had no children, and his parents both died in the 1960s. His nearest living relative, niece Sandra Sue Lewis, arrived at the airport Tuesday night, her vehicle following the hearse back to Ada.
Lewis chose to have Keaton's body returned to the state rather than have the remains cremated and spread over Hawaii, where he'd been interred along with his unidentified shipmates in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
Keaton was D.J. Gentry's mother's cousin. The military sought the mitochondrial DNA of her and her sister four years ago to identify his remains.
Born in Breckinridge, Texas, Keaton came to Oklahoma City from Lubbock to join the U.S. Marine Corps, she said.
His parents, Guy and Amanda Keaton, returned to the area near Ada shortly after their son was killed at Pearl Harbor, and resided there until their deaths in the 1960s. They, too, are buried in Lula Cemetery.
"He actually quit school when he was 18 to make a living for the family. His dad had gotten hurt moving a house. He went to San Diego about the time he should have been graduating, and by Christmas, he was deceased," Gentry said.
Until recently, family members did not even know that any of Keaton's remains existed and were thought to be lost in the wreckage.
“Four years of work finally came to fruition. It was an honor to have been a part of it and it just makes me even more proud of our U.S. military, our United States and our flag,” Gentry said.