Nina Fiquet has a memory of her great uncle, Alhambra native William Kenneth Schafer, which can melt any heart.
“Interestingly, my mom (Anya Owens) just turned 80 in August,” Fickett said Tuesday via telephone. “And I remember growing up she would always tell me about her uncle Billy and how he would write letters to her, even though she had just been born. He was so excited to be an uncle.
“She had all these letters that she had even when I was a little girl and she used to talk to me about those letters and read them to me,” Fickett said. “And so she always felt a huge connection to him, even when he passed away as an infant.”
Schaefer, a 1938 Alhambra High graduate, was in the US Navy when he wrote those letters. He was serving as Fireman 2nd Class aboard the USS Oklahoma when it was attacked in the Pearl Harbor air raid on December 7, 1941. He was killed 13 days before his 21st birthday.
On December 16, 2020 – just four days before Shaffer’s 100th birthday – his remains were identified through new DNA technology.
On Thursday, Shaffer — nearly 80 years after he passed away — will be laid to rest at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Marana, Arizona. Marana is about 22 miles from Tucson, where Fickett and other members of Shaffer’s family now live.
About 10 months after his identification, the family found Shaffer’s remains on Monday.
A total of 429 people lost their lives on the USS Oklahoma. As of 21 September, 388 have been positively identified.
In 2015 the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began decomposing coffins at the Pacific’s National Memorial Cemetery in Honolulu to identify lost DNA remains on the USS Oklahoma. The graveyard is also known as Panchbowl.
“I was very surprised,” Fickett said of the initial notification. “I didn’t even know they were doing DNA tests, that they had pulled them out of Panchkol. I didn’t know that, so when my mother called to tell me I was very shocked.”
Such a response shows that many did, the lieutenant commander said. Jory More, PoW/MIA Branch Chief, Naval Casualty Office.
“Often the notification and identification briefings are emotional, overwhelming and at the same time relieving for families,” Peacock said. “Most families can’t believe their loved ones were recovered after so many years; They prayed or hoped to someday close. “
Fickett appreciated the most about this position.
“Well, it’s off more than anything,” she said. “It’s a lot of heartache for my mom, it’s made me a little more nostalgic, it’s really made our family see and realize what our current society really is and it’s our Opportunity to inform.
“But, really, it’s been about closure. And finally, laying him to rest among his people. He’s coming to Tucson, Arizona where our family now lives and he’ll be buried here so we to meet him.”
Schafer, the youngest of four children, was deployed to the USS Oklahoma on January 27, 1941, 10 months before the attack. Awards he received include the Purple Heart Medal, the American Defense Service Medal (with a Fleet Clap), the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with a Bronze Star), and the World War II Victory Medal.
Fickett said the ending brought “an enormous sense of peace” to the family. She also couldn’t say enough about the compassion shown by Navy and others through all of this.
“I mean, when we got to the airport to pick up his remains there were a lot of police officers and the fire department was there because he was a fireman in Oklahoma,” Fickett said. “And there they were. The USO was there.”
A photograph of Shaffer’s head and shoulders in the 1938 Alhambra High Yearbook, called The Alhambran, was shared by the Alhambra Unified School District, with the idea being superintendent Dennis Jaramillo.
“We are amazed by the dedication of the US Navy to identifying missing sailors – even 80 years later,” she said, “and are honored that we have William Kenneth, an Alhambra High graduate sailor from the 1938 AHS Have the opportunity to contribute a photo of Shaffer. Yearbook – The Alhambran.”