DNA links Lucedale man to sailor killed in Pearl Harbor attack

DNA links Lucedale man to sailor killed in Pearl Harbor attack
Frank Springs, of Lucedale, is the oldest living relative of Johnston, who was his uncle. (Photo source: WLOX)
Frank Springs, of Lucedale, is the oldest living relative of Johnston, who was his uncle. (Photo source: WLOX)
Springs was first contacted by phone from someone with the Navy earlier this year. (Photo source: WLOX)
Springs was first contacted by phone from someone with the Navy earlier this year. (Photo source: WLOX)

LUCEDALE, MS (WLOX) - As the nation marks the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor next week, the remains of a Mississippi sailor killed in that attack will be laid to rest in his hometown of Wesson, Mississippi.

Jim Hal Johnston was among the many casualties aboard the USS Oklahoma. And modern forensics helped identify him. Frank Springs of Lucedale is the oldest living relative of Johnston.

"I'm just thankful that they have identified him and that we're able to bring him home and put him to rest in Wesson where he grew up, with his parents," said Springs.

Springs has little recollection of his Uncle Jim. He was just three years old when the attack on Pearl Harbor killed his mother's brother.

"My grandmother grieved for him so heavily for a long, long time. And yes, it was hard to take for them. The stories about him are that he was a pretty happy go lucky individual. Red headed guy, you know. Just enjoyed life," he said.

Johnston's young life was cut short that fateful December day. He worked in the engine room aboard the USS Oklahoma, which was among the vessels hardest hit.

"Battleship row, where the USS Oklahoma was parked. And it was on the outside of the row of them there. And it took hits here, that the ship on the inside of it did not take," said Springs.

The enormous casualty count at Pearl Harbor overwhelmed the military, which did its best to recover and identify the dead.

"There were body parts from many, many different guys that were buried together. Co-mingled. And buried as unknowns."

"The remains that were left were treated as unknowns and buried as such. And just in recent years have started to identify them," said the Lucedale man.

His Uncle Jim was identified earlier this year, after Springs and his brother both submitted DNA samples.

"It's hard to describe even the feeling at that time. It was almost unbelievable that after so much time, that this could be happening," said the 78-year-old nephew.

The Navy provided Springs with a detailed report about his uncle's identification.  It contains copies of personal papers, such as his enlistment form, and a letter from his mother in 1942, asking the Navy for any information about his remains.

Seventy-five years later, Jim Hal Johnston is finally coming home.

"The funeral service will be held at Wesson Cemetery. There will be complete military honors kind of service. And I know his parents would be overjoyed to know this. And they're probably looking down from up above, just thanking God for it," said Springs.

Jim Hal Johnston will be buried in Wesson next Wednesday morning, December 7th, on the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

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