On April 19, 2022, I drove the 5 hours to Yorkville, Tennessee with my mother and my son to pay my respects to Chief Water Tender, Claude White. CWT White was killed on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor. His remains were not identified until DNA allowed him to be returned home to be interred near his parents at the Bells Chapel Cemetery near Dyersburg.
I have a connection to CWT White. My great grandmother, Mozelle Harrington, the youngest of three children, was raised by her mother after her father left the family when Mozelle was only two. Her father, Andrew Elvin Harrington, left the family and volunteered to serve in the Army in World War I. When he returned home, he started a new life with another woman, lived in the same town, and raised a new family. His new wife, Effie White Warren Harrington, had lost her first husband, Clem Warren, in 1921 after he had served in WWI. Clem is also buried at Bells Chapel, as are Andrew and Effie Harrington, though the latter couples’ graves are unmarked and their burial locations are currently unknown. Effie was the older sister of CWT White.
From his obituary: “Mr. White enlisted in the United States Navy on September 9, 1920, in Nashville, Tennessee, reaching the rank of Chief Water Tender. He was assigned to the USS Oklahoma after completing his training at Newport, Rhode Island. His duty on the USS Oklahoma was to maintain and operate boiler room equipment. On the morning of December 7, 1941, the USS Oklahoma was moored in Battleship Row, at the Naval Base Pearl Harbor Hawaii. The Oklahoma was among the first vessels hit in this attack. When the attack began just before 8 a.m. Sunday morning, many of the crew were sleeping in their racks below decks and never made it up to the main deck. At approximately 7:55 a.m. the first wave of Japanese aircraft struck the Oklahoma with three aerial torpedoes. The USS Oklahoma began capsizing as the Japanese planes strafed the deck with machine gun fire and six more torpedoes. In total, 429 USS Oklahoma sailors lost their lives. When the ship was righted in 1944, 429 Sailors’ remains would be recovered. of these, only thirty-five were able to be identified. The remains of 388 unidentified Sailors and Marines were first interred as “unknowns” in two cemeteries. In 1950, all unidentified remains from Oklahoma were buried in sixty-one caskets in forty-five graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the “Punchbowl.” In April 2015, the Department of Defense, as part of the policy change that established threshold criteria for disinterment of unknowns, announced that the unidentified remains of the crewmembers of the Oklahoma would be exhumed for DNA analysis, with the goal of returning identified remains to their families. Since then, 355 have been individually identified.”
The ceremony on April 19 was a moving experience. It was very emotional for me and I am so grateful to have been able to attend. The twenty mile route from the funeral home to the cemetery was lined with over 2,000 American flags. As we drove to the cemetery, the streets and county roads were lined with members of the community waving flags and welcoming home one of their own. The procession included dozens of veterans on motorcycles. CWT White was buried with full military honors, and his surviving niece accepted the folded flag from his casket.
At the service I was able to meet Mike, a caretaker of the cemetery that I have been working with for the past two years to identify the location of Andrew Elvin Harrington’s grave. Though we have worked diligently and interviewed several relatives, we have as yet been unable to determine his burial plot. The cemetery was kind enough to place Andrew’s name on their Veteran Wall of Honor. I am certain CWT White’s name will soon be added.
Fold3 Memorial: https://www.fold3.com/memorial/530007958/claude-white
Find A Grave Memorial: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/238798705/claude-white