Families of those who have died in war often find that their grief is made worse by the lack of closure. An American woman recently gave her grandfather a proper consignment decades after he was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. She is now helping families on the other side of this conflict to regain that same sense of liberation.
In his latest letter to her parents, U.S. Navy Ensign John Charles England asked about her newborn daughter. “The only thing that touches me is that I will be the last in the family to see her”, he wrote. “Either way, that doesn’t feel right.
England never got to see her daughter. He died two weeks later in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
England was one of 429 men who were killed when Japanese torpedoes passed through the hull of the USS Oklahoma, capsizing it. He escaped to the top of the ship first, but went back inside three times to help the others. On his fourth rescue attempt, he did not come out.
He was only four days away from his twenty-first birthday.
Death becomes taboo
The military informed the family in England that he was missing in action and his remains could not be recovered. The grief of those close to him was such that even talking about him became taboo.
“We have suffered in a way that only families left without a sense of closure could understand,” said England’s granddaughter Bethany Glenn. “It is a sadness that seems to cover the generations.”
After his mother’s death in 2002, Glenn received boxes containing letters, phone books, photos and other keepsakes from his grandfather’s life. She spent weeks going through them, learning something new every day.
She said, “I felt like it was really the first time I had known him. I learned that he was a much loved child. He was the class president in high school. He was just the one. one of those guys that everyone loved. “
The more she delved into her grandfather’s short life, the more determined she became to bring him home.
“JC” found in Hawaii
Despite what the military told the family, the remains of John Charles England, or “JC,” were eventually identified and buried alongside other unknown soldiers in a national cemetery in Hawaii.
When Glenn and his family found out, they decided to do everything possible to get them back. In 2016, after an eight-year effort involving DNA identification, they received his skull. He was transported from Hawaii in a coffin shrouded in the stars and stripes of the American flag.
Seventy-five years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, JC had finally returned home. There was a solemn military funeral, where the family laid their remains alongside those of their parents.
Glenn describes the long-awaited moment as a liberating experience: “So that we can have conversations, talk about what he’s done and feel good and bring him back alive so that we can give him the funeral he deserved and a good one. sending – en route to the universe – that was really great. “
The ordeal was finally over for the family in England, but Glenn wanted others to feel the same sense of liberation as she did.
NPO’s work inspires a common mission
It was then that she discovered OBON SOCIETY, a US-based nonprofit that supports families of men who never returned to Japan from the battlefields of WWII. World War. Members of the group help return personal items such as flags that were kept as a souvenir and taken to the United States.
Co-founder Keiko Ziak lost her grandfather in the war. It was not until several years later, after recovering her flag, that she felt peace.
Glenn says she was “blown away” by the work Ziak was doing. She got in touch, and soon after, the two women embarked on a joint mission to heal wounds on both sides of the conflict.
Over the past decade, they have helped return more than 400 flags to families in Japan. “I don’t think there is a difference in the item that is returned, whether it’s bone or a flag,” says Glenn. “The end results are the same for every family – they go home with the shutdown and that’s what is most important.”
OBON SOCIETY has expanded its efforts beyond Japan and the United States. As the 80th anniversary of the start of the Pacific War approached, the group accepted an invitation to address an online rally hosted by a London club.
The message resonates in Europe
OBON’s message resonated with young German Air Force cadet Philipe dos Santos, who researched WWII soldiers from European countries who have never been found. .
He describes the group’s work as “a way to make peace and close the peace – not only to close the unknown fate of this fallen soldier somewhere in the Pacific, but also to make the world a little better, too.”
In November, Glenn learned that the rest of JC’s bones had been identified and sent home, just a day before Pearl Harbor’s 80th anniversary. She made a small shrine for her grandfather, and put the urn containing his remains next to his photo. She says the experience provided a powerful sense of purpose.
Sending the “child”
Glenn made special plans for the Pearl Harbor anniversary. Instead of attending a ceremony or watching TV shows about the war, she would show JC’s favorite movie, “Gone with the Wind”, with him by her side. Later, she and her family would take him on a road trip to visit the places where he grew up and meet people whose lives he touched.
Glenn explains, “The first time, when we buried his skull, we had a very military funeral, which was good because he was honored as a war hero. But this time around, we’re going to celebrate the child in him, the playful, funny and playful child that he was. “
Glenn points out that the families she helps in Japan represent a tiny fraction of those affected by conflict around the world. At the same time, she says that each case of closure brings humanity one step closer to peace.
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