When U.S. Navy Seaman 1st Class Donald Stott was killed at 19 years old in 1941, his family had a memorial service with an empty casket.
On Saturday, more than 81 years after he died on the USS Oklahoma in the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the remains in his flag-draped casket were finally laid to rest in Monticello with a funeral complete with full military honors.
After World War II, not many of the remains from those killed in the USS Oklahoma were identifiable. But in 2015, anthropological and DNA analysis helped the Defense POW/MIA identify bodies disinterred for the first time in nearly a century, including Independence, Iowa, seaman David F. Tidball in 2021.
Stott’s remains were identified two years ago.
“I don’t think you can honor people who sacrificed their lives for their country too much,” said niece Gerty Brokaw O’Leary of Herculaneum, Mo. “It brings a lot of closure together, more than just Don.”
More than 130 people, including relatives from across the country and supportive community members, attended St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Monticello for the service. The few who were alive when Stott died were young children when he passed.
Neena Petersen, Stott’s niece who provided a DNA sample and was instrumental in starting the process to identify his remains, was one of them. She vividly recalls her mother, Stott’s stepsister, at the service for him in 1941.
“She got peace out of going up and touching the casket, even though there was no one in there,” said Petersen, now 86. “I remember my dad standing there and holding her. She was devastated for a long time.”
To her, closure is a mild word for his final return to his hometown. Knowing that Stott has finally come home is a feeling beyond words.
At Oakwood Cemetery in Monticello, he was laid to rest near his sister, Betty, and stepsister, Rose Brokaw Schaeffer — Petersen’s mother.
She only wishes her mother had been alive to see his return home. As she grew up, she learned about Stott through her mother’s doting recollection — a buoyant, happy-go-lucky young man Schaeffer had admonished for not settling down with a family.
“He couldn’t be in a better place,” Petersen said. “He’ll never go anywhere now.”
Full military honors led Stott to his final resting place.
Jones County Sheriff’s deputies stood at salute near the gate, unwavering as dozens of cars in the procession entered. Other plainclothes veterans and community members mirrored their salute nearby.
The Monticello Drill Team delivered a three-volley salute as dozens saluted nearby from American Legion Post 298 in Marion and Post 137 in Dyersville. A bugler from the Navy Band Great Lakes concluded with taps.
Cadets from the Naval Reserve Center in Rock Island, Illi., folded the flag draping Stott’s casket, delivering it to Jill and Tom Brokaw Jr. via Rear Admiral Ingrid Rader.
Rader, an Iowa native who now lives in Virginia, made a point of attending the service.
“It’s important to come and be part of this amazing reunification,” she said.
The Brokaws helped finish the process to bring Stott’s remains home to Monticello after Petersen’s health prevented her from doing so. Stott’s remains were flown to Omaha earlier this month and transported via hearse to Monticello with a Navy escort.
“We not only celebrate the return home of Seaman First Class Donald Stott, but want to remember and honor all who gave their lives for this nation and all veterans,” Brokaw said.
And 81 years after his death, Stott wasn’t forgotten by even his distant relatives.
“Is it always on your mind? Of course not. But every once in a while, something will remind you of him,” Petersen said. “I feel guilty that we got him home — there’s so many families that didn’t get theirs.”
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As reported by American Military News