Walter Ray Pentico is a United States Navy Sailor who was killed on the USS Oklahoma when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. His remains were identified on February 24, 2021.
Walter Pentico was born on March 31, 1923 to Sherman and Ethel Pentico in Overton, Nebraska. He had two older brothers, Goerge and Charles. When he was two, the Pentico family moved to Lexington, Kentucky.
Growing up, Pentico attended the local public schools, was employed by the City of Lexington, and was an active member of the Southern Mission Church. On April 3, 1941, he enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corps at Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. He served in the CCC for three months and then enlisted into the United States Navy on July 7, 1941.
After enlisting, Pentico was sent to Denver, Colorado for physical examinations and then shipped to San Diego, California, for seven weeks of training. After his training was complete, he was assigned to the USS Oklahoma as a Seaman, Second Class.
Pearl Harbor Attack
At about 7:48 AM on 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 USS Oklahoma was one of the first ships to be attacked. The ship was torpedoed and was capsized, killing Pentico in the process. His remains were located between 1941 and 1944, but not identified. As a result, he was considered Missing in Action while his remains were buried in the Punchbowl at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Overall, 2,335 Americans were killed in the attack, 429, including Pentico, were on the USS Oklahoma. The surprise attack led to US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to declare December 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy". The following day, the US Congress declared war on Japan which led to the United States' formal entry into World War II.
After his death, Pentico was awarded the Purple Heart. He was memorialized in Row 3 of the USS Oklahoma Memorial and at the Honolulu Memorial of the Courts of the Missing in Honolulu. He also has a memorial marker in Greenwood Cemetery in Lexington.
In September of 1947, the American Graves Registration Service was tasked to identify unknown soldier's remains from the Pacific Theatre. However, they were only able to identify thirty-five of the crewmen from the USS Oklahoma. In October of 1949, the American Graves Registration Service ruled Pentico, along with many soldiers whose remains were not identified, as unrecoverable.
In 2015, the Department of Defense and the Defense POW/MIA accounting agency initiated a program to exhume the unidentified sailors of the USS Oklahoma to try and match their DNA against the DNA of family members whose loved ones were never identified. Scientists at the DPAA used anthropological analysis and scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used Y-chromosome (Y-STR) analysis to identify the servicemen.
Through these methods, Walter Ray Pentico was identified on February 24, 2021. His identification was announced on June 4, 2021.