A WWII Navy seaman, one of hundreds buried as unidentified dead after the brutality of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, is finally coming home to Arlington to be laid to rest next to his mom and dad.
Seaman 1C George Anderson Coke Jr, 19, a graduate of Arlington High School joined the Navy to see the world, a world that ended for him December 7, 1941. He was below decks on the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor. Japanese torpedoes tore through the hull, tearing apart 429 men. Most, 388 of them, could not be identified with the technology of the time and they were buried in Hawaii in unknown co-mingled graves.
"I can't imagine not knowing where your child is," said Sherry Coke Dorn, a distant cousin of the long-lost sailor. She never met her cousin. She was born several years after his death.
"He sounds like someone I would have liked to have known."
But she does know the stories of her great aunt Julina Coke, the sailor's mom.
"I just think there's no grief like the grief of losing a child. She was very traumatized like any mother would be. I don't think she ever lost the grief."
Grief that Julina Coke took to her grave. Her husband died first, then her son disappeared at Pearl Harbor. They had a marker for him placed in the family plot at Arlington's Parkdale Cemetery. She was buried next to her husband and her son's empty grave almost 20 years later.
"And then his mother had to live in that grief for over 20 years before she passed. And I wish she had learned of this before she passed."
"This" is the news that George Anderson Coke is finally coming home. With modern technology the military is working to identify all of the USS Oklahoma dead currently interred at the USS Oklahoma Memorial on Ford Island in Hawaii. The Arlington son is the most recent find. DNA matched a distant nephew in Atlanta, Georgia and the sailor's remains are coming home to Arlington this Friday to be buried Saturday, with honors, in that empty grave next to his mom and dad.
"I was just completely taken aback," said Sherry Coke Dorn. "I never thought in all these years that I've been alive and heard about him that they would ever be able to identify him. And that just makes me kind of tear up thinking about that because it's overwhelming that after this many years that will happen."
"I think it's fantastic," said Wanda Roberson with the Arlington Historical Society which maintains an extensive collection of memorabilia from World War II and the sacrifices made by Arlington residents. "Just another way they say we don't leave anybody behind. We bring them home, if we can."
At the time Arlington was a small town of roughly 4,500 people. By the time the war was over, Arlington High School had lost 48 young men. The names of the Arlington High School classmates who died in World War II can be found listed in a 1946 high school yearbook.
But here's what the current generation should remember. George Coke is just one soul. There are still more than 73,000 American souls unaccounted for from World War II. More than 3,600 still missing just from the state of Texas. A number that includes George Coke's cousin Marshall Coke. His family says he joined to avenge is cousin's Pearl Harbor death. Marshall Coke disappeared near the Philippines in 1944. His body is among the 73,119 never recovered.
"Oh they all joined. They all quit school. My brother quit school and joined," Roberson said. "It was a big patriotic thing. They were fighting for their country."
"They gave their life for our freedom," said Sherry Coke Dorn. "I think the younger generation needs to feel a token of respect."
Respect offered as a family gathers later this week around a once empty grave, as a long lost son does finally come home.
"I think home is the place he needs to be," Dorn said.
The remains of George Anderson Coke Jr. are scheduled to arrive at DFW airport Friday morning and will be escorted from the airport by the Patriot Guard Riders. A memorial service will be held 1 p.m. Saturday, June 24 at First United Methodist Church, 313 N. Center Street in Arlington. Burial will follow at Parkdale Cemetery. The public is invited to attend.
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