Laclede native coming home decades after death at Pearl Harbor

Angie Talken
Linn County Leader

Laclede native George Merton Gooch was killed on Dec. 7, 1941, during the attack on Pearl Harbor. At that time he was declared dead while missing in action or lost at sea. His remains will be interred in his hometown on Oct. 9.

George Merton Gooch

According to a press release from The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), on Dec. 7, 1941, Gooch was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft. The USS Oklahoma sustained multiple torpedo hits, which caused it to quickly capsize. The attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, including Gooch.

From December 1941 to June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased crew, which were subsequently interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries.

In September 1947, tasked with recovering and identifying fallen U.S. personnel in the Pacific Theater, members of the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks. The laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identifications of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma at that time. The AGRS subsequently buried the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as non-recoverable, including Gooch.

Between June and November 2015, DPAA personnel exhumed the USS Oklahoma Unknowns from the Punchbowl for analysis.

To identify Gooch’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.

Family spokesperson Andrea Morrow-Cronin said that her great-great uncle's remains were identified through those methods using familial DNA from his great-nephew, David Morrow.

Gooch's obituary

United States Navy Sailor George Merton Gooch, age 22 from Laclede, Missouri; was killed in action during World War II on the Battleship USS Oklahoma when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. His remains were identified on September 14, 2020, using familial DNA from his great-nephew, David Morrow.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, October 9, 2021, George Gooch will be laid to rest in the Laclede Cemetery in Laclede, Missouri, with Full Navy Military Funeral Honors conducted by the United States Navy. Services are under the direction of the Rhodes Funeral Home, Brookfield, MO.

George Merton Gooch was born to Linn Gooch and Hulda Mae Alexander Gooch on April 23, 1919 in Purdin, Missouri. George was a 1937 graduate of Laclede High School. He had six siblings; Hermia Vasiel Gooch Molloy, Reba Lucille Gooch Peters, Wallace Linn Gooch, Alexander Jenkins Gooch, PVT Eugene Clark Gooch, and Eunice Fern Gooch Catlin. He is survived by his niece Norma (Gooch) Morrow of Mountain Home, Arkansas and niece Judy (Gooch) Palmer of Kennewick, Washington.

In 1939 George joined the United States Navy. At 7:48 am December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service conducted a surprise military strike against the United States at the naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The battleship USS Oklahoma was one of the first ships to be attacked. The ship was torpedoed and capsized. Gooch was killed during the attack. At the time of his death, George was awarded the Purple Heart and was ranked Petty Officer Third Class and his specialty was Electrician’s Mate Third Class.

The community is encouraged to come to Linneus and the cemetery to show their support for Gooch's family and honor his service sacrifice.