Massachusetts sailor killed at Pearl Harbor finally gets proper burial at Arlington National Cemetery

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Seaman 1st Class Frank Hryniewicz of Three Rivers, Massachusetts, was one of 429 U.S. service members killed aboard the USS Oklahoma when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941. Just 20 years old, Hryniewicz had joined the Navy less than two years before, wanting to see the world. More than 80 years later, he was finally laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery earlier this month.

For years the Hryniewicz family clung to the letter written by his older brother after the attack telling Hryniewicz to be in touch and informing him he had become an uncle. The youngest of five children, Hryniewicz was the baby of the family and known for being a ladies’ man. His nieces and nephews grew up hearing stories about his adventures in the Navy.

“Darn your hide! Why in hell don’t you write? Last Sunday we heard the Oklahoma had been sent to the bottom of Pearl Harbor, ever since then we’ve been sitting on pins and needles waiting to hear from you or from the Navy Department… P.S. you’re now an uncle as of last Thursday 8:30 A.M.,” his older brother wrote.

Frank’s niece Joie Hallstrom was inspired by the stories of her uncle’s sacrifice and joined the U.S. Navy herself. Hallstrom said she felt like her family had unfinished business, since her uncle’s life had been taken so soon.

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“His presence in our family did something to me, and I know that it had a big influence on me joining the Navy. I really do because I felt like there was some unfinished business there,” Hallstrom said.

On a sunny afternoon in May, 10 members of the Hryniewicz family gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to honor their Uncle Frank. It was the first time the family had come together in years. The Navy granted him full military honors.

Frances Griffin, 81, who was named after her uncle, was overcome with emotion.

“I’ve known all of this for so long. It’s a part of my life and part of family lore. I was absolutely shocked that I started crying,” Griffin said.

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Griffin’s father is the one who had written her Uncle Frank the letter after her older brother was born. He died three days before Hryniewicz’s remains were identified.

“I just get the feeling that my dad would be conflicted. So happy that this is where Uncle Frank is but so sad of all the things he missed in life,” Griffin said.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they strafed the deck of the USS Oklahoma, causing it to flip over. Hryniewicz and his fellow sailors were trapped in the hull. Days later, sailors could still be heard banging from inside the doomed ship. Eventually, 429 sailors on the Oklahoma were pronounced dead.

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The Oklahoma was not flipped back over until 1944 in order to recover the sailors’ remains. Initially, only 35 were identified. Sixty-one caskets and 45 graves were disinterred from the National Memorial Cemetery in Honolulu. A single casket contained the partial remains of 100 sailors.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has been working since 2015 to piece together the remains of those lost on the USS Oklahoma. Carrie LeGarde, project lead for the USS Oklahoma Identification Project, said her team was able to identify 362 of the missing service members from the Oklahoma, meaning 92%.

“We needed to devote a lot of time and resources to this project to be that successful,” LeGarde said.

“We were able to provide answers to so many family members and that’s really rewarding. It can be a little bit emotional, to be able to see kind of this part of the project, where men are being returned home or to other national cemeteries for burial and it’s giving that kind of closing of a chapter in those families’ history.”

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The Hryniewicz family felt that their beloved uncle finally got the proper burial.

“What I feel is an incredible sense of relief. He’s home. We brought him home. And I just believe so deeply that our veterans, deceased, present, we need to take care of these people who have put their lives on the line for us,” Hallstrom said.   

Hallstrom was moved that her uncle would finally be with his shipmates.

“For me, the importance of him being here is that he will not be forgotten. This is in perpetual honor. Anybody can see where he is and he’s with his shipmates. And that gives me goosebumps. He’s with the people who meant the most to him while he served,” Hallstrom said.