The remains of a Linn County veteran who died during the attack on Pearl Harbor are coming home to Laclede.
Through the work of the POW/MIA Accounting Agency, members of the Head family recently learned they have a cousin who served in World War II.
Harold Lloyd Head was born Oct. 10, 1921 to Goldie and Noel Head. The three lived in northern Missouri and eventually made their way to Laclede, Mo.
Harold Head attended Laclede High School. In his sophomore yearbook, Head was a self-proclaimed ladies man. In his junior yearbook, Laclede senior Ray Wade proclaimed Head would turn his work in on-time and he would not be late to school during his senior year.
But beyond those couple amusing quotes, not much else is known about Head.
With the help of his father, Head enlisted into the U.S. Navy June 20, 1940. By July of that year, Head was transferred from Kansas City, Mo. to the Great Lakes, Ill. naval station for boot camp. After a few months there, Head was leaving again for San Francisco. Head would be stationed on the USS Oklahoma in Hawaii.
Less than two months after his 20th birthday, Head was one of 429 people on the Oklahoma who died in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.
In the words of the 32nd U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."
In all, 2,403 Americans lost their lives in the attack. That number includes 68 civilians.
The remains of only 35 people who lost their lives on the Oklahoma were identified in the years after the attack. In 1950, unidentified remains were buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
In 2015, the POW/MIA Accounting Agency began work to identify the remains. The Oklahoma Project uses medical examinations and DNA testing to identify veteran remains. More than 70 years after his death, members of Head’s family were asked to submit DNA samples for the project.
On Sept. 26, 2017, Harold Lloyd Head was identified by the accounting agency. The family was shocked to find out a cousin they had never heard of had been identified through the process.
“I didn’t even know him. I was just a little guy back then,” said Gary Wayne Head, first-cousin of Harold.
Gary Wayne received the invitation to submit DNA, but thought it was for another family member. Another cousin of Head’s was Howard Head, who had joined the war effort after Harold died. Howard was a machine gunner in WWII, stationed in Europe. He died in combat in 1944.
Gary Wayne Head says learning about his new family member is sensational.
“It’s quite a feeling, I don’t know how to describe it,” Head said. “To me, it’s a miracle that they found him.”
Another cousin of Harold hardly knew him, as well. Richard Head was born in 1944, three years after Harold’s death. Richard and his parents would often visit Goldie and Noel Head in Laclede. During one of their trips, Noel took Richard and his father, Danny Head, into the garage. Noel remembered a pair of boots Harold hung there years prior.
“Harold hung those boots before he left for the war,” was all Noel could say before choking up.
Richard believes he and the younger generation might have been too young to hear about what happened to Harold.
“It must be they were very upset by Harold’s death is why they never talked about him,” Head said. “It’s a dirty, rotten shame something like this would have happened to Harold.”
Patrick McMillin began dating Harold Head’s cousin Freda in the 1960s. McMillin saw photos of a young man, but never heard who he was.
“Whenever I asked about the photos (of Harold) I got tears, never an answer,” McMillin said.
Having heard about Harold recently, McMillin was compelled to learn more about the veteran. McMillin peeled through old family documents and letters to find out who Harold was. Most knowledge comes from Harold’s enlistment papers, a letter sent from Howard Head during WWII and a stone marker.
A stone marker sits at the intersection of Grove Street and Cole Street in Laclede. The marker was erected in 1951 by the Army Mothers of Laclede to remember six veterans who never made it home. The names include Harold Head, Marlin Smith, George Gooch, Eugene Gooch, Gay Mitchell and Robert Taylor. The marker will be burial plot for the veterans as they return home.
Ninety-seven years to the day he was born, Harold Head is coming back home to Laclede. Head’s remains are being delivered to Meyers Northland Chapel in Parkville, Mo. by the U.S. Navy. The remains will then be driven north to Laclede. Head will be buried behind the stone marker in Laclede, with family, veterans and many Missouri citizens in attendance.
McMillin says the ceremony will close a chapter for the family.
“It’s closure, but I’m happy to see him come home and I’m happy for the family,” McMillin said. “It’s been an honor trying to bring to life what these young men did.”
Larry Smith, mayor of Laclede, has been working hard on behalf of the family. So far, Smith has been in contact with many veterans organizations and citizens from the around the country to pay their respects to an American hero.
“It’s an honor to bring home a man who gave his life for our freedom,” Smith said.
Smith is planning on bringing many people to Linn County. After a meeting Oct. 1, Smith learned approximately 1,000 people may be coming to Laclede. Smith’s phone has been ringing off the hook from veterans and veterans organizations around the state. The Missouri State Highway Patrol will lead the remains with riders following. Smith has also received a call from the governor’s office, seeking details about the event.
To date, the Oklahoma Project has identified more than 170 veterans. Their goal is to reach 200 identifications by December 2018. Dr. Tim McMahon, director of the Department of Defense DNA Operations for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner, has been working at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Delaware.
The lab has been working quickly to identify the remains.
“From extraction of the DNA sample, to the issuance of a DNA summary report, takes (us) approximately 55 days,” McMahon said.
The project is scheduled to end in 2020, but the accounting agency plans to extend the schedule, if needed.
According to the POW/MIA Accounting Agency, 2,064 WWII veterans are still missing from Missouri, including 15 who served on the USS Oklahoma.
In total, the U.S. has about 82,000 missing soldiers from wars of the modern era.
The funeral procession is planned to leave Parkville, Mo., at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. It will travel along Highway 36 near Chillicothe at noon and arrive at Laclede Cemetery at 1 p.m.