Nearly 77 years after he died in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Navy Seaman 1st Class George E. Naegle of La Crosse is finally coming home.
Naegle’s remains have been identified through DNA and other methods of analysis, the U.S. Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Thursday. In a press release, it said that Naegle, who was 22 and stationed on the battleship USS Oklahoma when he died, was accounted for on Aug. 27.
His remains are expected to be brought to La Crosse within a few weeks.
Arrangements are being made for a funeral service at a date yet to be announced, at the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman, said Naegle’s niece, Mary Ann Lyden of La Crosse. She said Thursday that she received a telephone call Wednesday from an officer with the Defense Department, saying her uncle’s remains had been identified.
Lyden said she hopes to have Naegle buried in the Catholic Cemetery in La Crosse, where his parents George W. and Anna Naegle are buried.
She said she was only 5 years old when Naegle died at Pearl Harbor, was only 2 or 3 when he enlisted in the Navy, and has little memory of him. But she heard a lot about Naegle as she grew up.
“He was a good guy,” Lyden said she has been told. “He had a lot of friends.
“I was shocked at first” to hear that Naegle’s remains had been identified, Lyden said of the telephone call she received Wednesday. “I know they do good work with DNA these days. What I really want is for him to have an honorable burial and have everything, all of the accolades, that are due him. He gave his life for us at the young age of 22.”
Naegle was on the battleship Oklahoma, which was moored at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, when it and other U.S. ships and aircraft were attacked by Japanese airplanes on Dec. 7, 1941. The battleship was hit by multiple torpedos, which caused it to quickly capsize. The attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, including Naegle.
From December 1941 to June 1944, DPAA’s press release said, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased crew, which were subsequently interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu cemeteries.
In September 1947, members of the American Graves Registration Service disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks. The laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identifications of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma at that time. The AGRS subsequently buried the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.
In April 2015, the deputy secretary of defense issued a policy memorandum ordering the disinterment of unknowns associated with the USS Oklahoma. And on June 15, 2015, DPAA personnel began exhuming the remains from the Punchbowl for analysis.
Naegle’s remains were identified with the use of DNA, dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial evidence, DPAA said.
Lyden said Defense Department officials contacted her family two or three years ago to get DNA samples from them. She and two of her sons, Randy and Robert, provided the agency with swabs from the inside of their cheeks, as they were asked to do.
“I was very impressed to learn the lengths to which the military goes to provide closure,” Randy Lyden said Thursday.
Naegle was a 1938 graduate of Central High School, where he was a star football player, according to a story in the Dec. 22, 1941, La Crosse Tribune, which reported that he was still missing. It said he had enlisted in the Navy in January 1939.
According to the Tribune story, “A letter was received from Naegle, son of Mr. and Mrs. George Naegle Sr., 732 S. 15th St., last Friday in which he wrote that they ‘have a good navy and were ready to fight.’ It also contained a Christmas present of $10 for the daughter of his sister, Mrs. Louise Weimar.”
“I don’t remember the $10,” said Mary Ann Lyden, who is the daughter of the late Louise Naegle Weimar.
But Lyden still has the satin gold-color pillowcase with green fringe, depicting scenes in Hawaii, that Naegle sent to his sister Louise as a birthday present a few days before Pearl Harbor was attacked. Louise’s birthday was Dec. 6 and the pillowcase arrived in La Crosse shortly after Dec. 7.
On the pillowcase are the words “Aloha” and “Honolulu” in large letters, as well as this saying:
Of all the girls
I ever knew
There never was
One like you.
You’re the nearest
You’re the dearest
Pal I ever knew”
Louise was the only other child that Naegle’s parents had.
His parents died without being able to give their son a funeral and burial in La Crosse. George W. Naegle died in 1974 at the age of 90, and his wife Anna died in 1957 at the age of 73.
Lyden said she remembers being told that a friend of her uncle’s who survived the attack, later told his parents that both men jumped from the Oklahoma into the water, but that Naegle was unable to swim to shore. “He wasn’t a strong swimmer,” she said.
According to Tribune files, Naegle was one of four La Crosse residents who died in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the event that prompted the United States to enter World War II. The others were two La Crosse sailors, Darryl Hess, 26, of Central High School and Helmar Hanson of Logan High School, who died aboard the nearby battleship USS Arizona along with Marine Leo Amundson, 18, a 1941 Central High School graduate.
In a 2008 interview, the late Don “Dutch” Albitz of Onalaska, who also was serving on the USS Oklahoma when it was attacked, told the Tribune that he had talked to Hess and Naegle the night before the surprise attack. Albitz, who died in 2012, said that Hess told him he had just gotten married. And Albitz said that Naegle, a signalman on the Oklahoma, had been on watch the night before the attack and was sleeping in a compartment hit by one of the first torpedoes.
“What I really want is for him to have an honorable burial and have everything, all of the accolades, that are due him. He gave his life for us at the young age of 22.” Mary Ann Lyden, George Naegel’s niece
"What I really want is for him to have an honorable burial and have everything, all of the accolades, that are due him. He gave his life for us at the young age of 22.”
Mary Ann Lyden, George Naegel's niece