ONTONAGON — Over the weekend, a World War 2 Veteran was laid to rest. Hundreds came to Holy family cemetery in Ontonagon to pay their respects, but none of them knew the work that it took to bring him home.
It was a solemn yet beautiful moment on Saturday afternoon in Ontonagon. U.S. Navy Fireman Second Class Lowell Earl Valley was laid to rest 77 years after he was killed. It’s a moment that hundreds of families have not yet experienced.
When the U.S.S. Oklahoma sunk in the Battle of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, 429 casualties were reported. 35 were identified and returned to their families within the next six years. The remaining 394 were buried in two naval cemeteries. In 2008, Lowell’s brother Bob Valley was tasked with helping to identify 27 unknown soldiers.
“In January 2010, the 5th one was identified: Fireman 3rd Class Gerald Lehman from Hancock, MI. We buried him on June 12th, 2010,” said Valley.
After Valley helped to identify the first 5, the identification process snowballed.
“Finally, a decision was made in April of 2015 to not only bring up the 22, but to bring up all 394 of our casualties. As of today, we have 134 of those identified, and it’s an ongoing thing. That’s what I’ve been involved with for the past few years.”
When Lowell was identified in January, plans were set into motion for his funeral. In less than 24 hours, his remains were flown from Omaha, Nebraska to Minneapolis, Minnesota. From there, he was transported across state lines.
“The Michigan Guard picked him up at Ashland, Wisconsin, and brought him to Ontonagon, and they didn’t get in until 2:30 this morning,” said Valley. “They tell me that people were lined up all through the road…all over.”
The turnout was just as magnificent at Holy Family Cemetery. Hundreds of people paid their respects to their hometown hero. It’s a moment not even Bob thought would happen.
“When they made the decision to bring them all up, there was a chance that I could get my brother back. I didn’t think he was going to be identified in my lifetime. But it happened,” said Valley.
For Bob and the rest of the Valley family, the burial brings a sense of relief. But none of this happens, if not due to the hard work Bob and others have done to bring that relief to families of those fallen and once unknown soldiers.
“Naturally, I’m elated,” he said. “First thing I said when they told me over the telephone, I said thank you, thank you, thank you. After 77 years, we brought him home.”
And now, better late than never, U.S. Navy Fireman Second Class Lowell Earl Valley rests in the town he worked so hard to defend.