It’s a headline that’s popped up dozens of times since 2015: The remains of a sailor from USS Oklahoma (BB-37), the ill-fated battleship that capsized and sank during the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, is identified after more than seven decades and is returned home to be buried alongside his family. No matter how many times it happens, however, it’s an event that provides some degree of comfort to yet another family whose loved one was lost seven decades earlier. One such family is that of Clifford Goodwin.
From a Farm in Missouri to USS Oklahoma
More than 76 years ago, Clifford George Goodwin, a young man who once lived on a farm in Missouri, was serving aboard USS Oklahoma when a fleet of Japanese fighters and bombers launched an attack on the US naval base. A few minutes before 0800 on December 7th, 1941, Japanese aircraft opened fire on airfields across the island and the ships lined up at Pearl Harbor. Among the primary targets was USS Oklahoma, which, after being struck by torpedoes, capsized and sank, taking with her 429 sailors.
Among those killed in the attack on USS Oklahoma was Clifford Goodwin, who had joined the Navy in April of 1940. Seaman First Class Goodwin was one of more than 350 sailors of Oklahoma whose remains were unidentifiable using the technology of the time. Rather than being given a proper burial, the remains of Goodwin and his fellow sailors were eventually buried in mass graves at the National Cemetery of the Pacific, where they stayed for more than 70 years.
Clifford Goodwin Returns Home
In 2015, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began work on a project to unearth the unidentified Pearl Harbor remains and, with the help of DNA matching, provide them with the recognition that was unavailable to them in 1941.
In early May 2018, Goodwin’s remains arrived at his hometown of Diamond, MO for a procession and funeral service held on the 12th of the month. Among Goodwin’s family members at the funeral was his niece, Donna Goodwin Vance, who recalled the fateful decision the young sailor made that could have changed his life. On the evening of December 6th, 1941, Clifford Goodwin had returned with his fellow crew after maneuvers. Rather than return to shore to spend the night at his older brother’s house, he remained aboard his ship.
His brother (and Donna’s father) Daniel was already serving on Oklahoma when Clifford Goodwin enlisted, but Daniel was not on board when the Japanese began their attack on the harbor. As Donna recalls, her father Daniel felt guilt for the remainder of his life, passing away in 1988 before his younger brother could be returned home.
Clifford Goodwin was buried with full military honors in his hometown cemetery. His second cousin, Reverend Phillip McClendon, gave a eulogy that honored the belated return of the Pearl Harbor hero.