On December 7, 1941, US Navy Seaman 1st Class Edward Slapikas was serving aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB-37) when the Imperial Japanese Navy launched an aerial strike against Pearl Harbor. As one of the main targets of the attack, Oklahoma sustained extensive damage and finally capsized. In the process, she lost 429 men, Edward Slapikas among them. The moment before the attack unfolded was the last time anyone would see the sailor alive.
76 Years of Anonymity
For more than seven decades, the remains of the sailor remained unidentified, due to the lack of sophisticated identification methods of the time and the nation’s need to focus all its efforts on the war ahead. Slapikas was among more than 300 men of the USS Oklahoma whose remains weren’t able to be identified immediately following the attack. The remains of these men were buried in graves marked “Unknown” where they rested for more than seven decades. In 2015, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began their work to bring men like Edward Slapikas home for a proper burial.
After more than three years of matching DNA samples from surviving family members to the remains of Oklahoma’s unknowns, Slapikas’s body was finally identified. The sailor, who was 24 years old at the time of his death, was identified thanks to the help of surviving family members like his 88-year-old niece Leona Hotko.
A Favorite Uncle Finally Identified
“He was my favorite uncle,” Hotko recalls of the young Oklahoma sailor. Slapikas’s remains were officially identified in the fall of 2017, and Hotko’s hope is that they’ll return to Wanamie, PA to be buried next to his parents. The sailor’s niece is part of his living legacy, though she was only 12 years old when the attack on Pearl Harbor unfolded.
In the wake of the tragedy in faraway Hawaii, Hotko remained defiant against the belief that he had been killed. In the days following the attack, she received a card from him that included money to purchase a bicycle. In the note, he expressed excitement to go riding with his niece, who continued to argue with her family that he was still alive.
Along with his niece, Edward Slapikas is remembered by American Legion Post 971, which was named after him and Petty Officer 3rd Class Keith Jeffries, who was killed in the sinking of the USS Arizona (BB-39).
Since Slapikas’s remains were unidentified when they were buried in the mass grave at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, his name is among those in the World War II Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial within the cemetery. After his body was identified, a rosette was added next to his name, indicating that he’s no longer considered missing.