During the chaos that erupted on December 7, 1941, Marine Pfc. Robert Holmes found the ship he was serving on a target of the attacking Japanese Navy’s torpedoes. The attack on Pearl Harbor lasted nearly two hours, but the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB-37) capsized and sank well before the Japanese retreated back to their carriers. After taking hits from eight torpedoes, Oklahoma capsized and sank, taking Holmes, along with 428 other sailors and Marines, with her. The morning of the attack was the last time anyone would see Robert Kimball Holmes alive.
Unidentified for Decades
Recently, thanks to the efforts of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the long-lost Marine is returning to his hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah. Robert Holmes was only 19 years old when he died during the attack on Pearl Harbor, leaving behind a grieving family. To make the loss even worse, his remains were deemed unidentifiable when they were pulled from the wreckage of the battleship.
The remains of Robert Holmes were kept in Honolulu and eventually buried in a mass grave at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, along with other unidentified remains. For almost 75 years, his body lay in the cemetery in Punchbowl Crater, his family never having received the comfort of giving their loved one a proper burial.
Though his parents have long since passed away, his memory has been kept alive by his nephews. Bruce Holmes, who lives in Sandy, Utah, heard stories of his uncle growing up, and heard about a letter that had reached Robert’s father weeks after the Marine’s death. The letter was sent on December 6, 1941, the day before the attack.
Bruce Holmes’s knowledge of his uncle also comes from his older brother—named after his fallen uncle—who knew Holmes briefly early in his life. From what he remembered, “He had a look in his eye that ‘I’m a Holmes boy and also a Marine, so don’t mess with me.’”
Robert Holmes Returns Home
According to the younger Robert Holmes, the family never gave up hope that their missing relative would return home one day. Though all of the Marine’s siblings and his parents have passed on, that hope was eventually answered.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency launched a program in 2015 to identify remains of servicemen buried in in mass graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. The agency started reaching out to relatives of Oklahoma casualties, requesting DNA samples to match to unidentified bodies.
The program has returned home dozens of men previously listed as Missing or Killed in Action. Robert Holmes is now one of those identified using DNA matching.