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Remains of Missouri Navy sailor who died at Pearl Harbor returned home after 81 years

Sophia Belshe, The Kansas City Star on

Published in News & Features

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Eighty-one years after he was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor, Seaman First Class Wilbur F. Newton’s remains returned to his hometown in Missouri.

Members of Newton’s family felt relieved and finally at peace when his remains, identified through DNA testing, arrived at Kansas City International Airport on Tuesday to a Navy guard and water salute from two fire trucks.

“It is very moving for the family,” said Jane Perkins, the daughter of Newton’s first cousin. “We’ve hoped, we’ve always wondered, but nobody really knew before now.”

Newton died Dec. 7, 1941, in the attack on Pearl Harbor while stationed aboard the USS Oklahoma, according to his obituary. His remains had been interred in Hawaii along with other unidentified servicemen since 1941.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency used dental and anthropological analysis to identify Newton after his maternal first cousin and her two sons gave the Navy samples of their DNA in 2012. Newton was accounted for on Oct. 21, 2021 — nearly 80 years after his death.

Robin Deeds, the son of Newton’s oldest living relative, said that while he knew his father had a first cousin who died at Pearl Harbor, he didn’t know Newton’s name until his father learned that his remains were identified.

 

“After 80 years, you give up after a certain amount of time,” Deeds said. “I want to thank his cousins that gave the DNA because if it hadn’t been for for those three, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Newton will be buried in his family plot in Mound City, Missouri, which also holds the remains of his parents and two of his three sisters.

“When we found that marker, we knew we had found where he belongs,” Perkins said.

Newton was born on Sept. 23, 1912, in Polk, Nebraska. His family settled in Mound City when he was 7 years old.

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