ACKLEY, Iowa– Nearly eight decades after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the remains of an Iowa sailor killed in action were finally identified. However, the coronavirus would delay the military funeral for yet another year.
“I was getting old enough, and it had been long enough ago, I thought it would never happen in my lifetime,” said Martha Wallace.
Her uncle was assigned to the USS Oklahoma. She grew up hearing the story of 20-year-old U.S. Navy Fireman First Class Leo T. Keninger. The Ackley native died when his ship was torpedoed by Japanese aircraft and sank. His body was not recovered at the time.
After a lifetime of waiting, the World War II sailor went from the “unknowns” to finally being accounted for.
“I just got goosebumps. I’d hope for it like all of my cousins. We had hoped for it when all of our parents were still around to enjoy it, but we were grateful it was us,” said Wallace.
“As of today, we have accounted for 338 of the 392 who were buried as “unknowns” at Punchbowl cemetery after WWII,” explained SFC Sean Everette with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
In 2015, they began exhuming the remains of the “unknowns”. The USS Oklahoma Project has been analyzing and identifying the sailors and marines ever since. For the families, it’s a long time coming.
“The work for the families, to get their loved ones back to them, that’s really the whole reason we do this,” said Everette.
“I felt like he was a family member. I think all of us cousins felt like he was still part of the family even though we didn’t know him. Never met him. He’s still part of the family,” said Wallace.
Surrounded by family, Keninger will finally be laid to rest. A visitation for Keninger will be held Friday, June 25 at the Ackley High School Gymnasium. The public is welcome from 6 to 8 PM. A mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church is set for Saturday, June 26th at 10:30 AM. The burial will follow at the church cemetery just east of Ackley.