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Remains of Iowan killed at Pearl Harbor to be returned to Central City

Surviving relatives, who never knew uncle, express 'significant sense of relief'

Ray Harrison Myers (right), a second-class Navy seaman who was killed in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, stands with his siblings, Russell Myers (left) and Ruth Jane Myers (center). (Photo courtesy of the Myers/Kloster families)
Ray Harrison Myers (right), a second-class Navy seaman who was killed in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, stands with his siblings, Russell Myers (left) and Ruth Jane Myers (center). (Photo courtesy of the Myers/Kloster families)
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If there was one wish her grandparents had before they died, Debra Downing said, it was to see their son’s remains returned home to Central City.

Debra, 68, of Charles City, is the niece of Ray Harrison Myers, a 19-year-old U.S. Navy seaman second-class who was killed Dec. 7, 1941, on the USS Oklahoma when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Honolulu.

For decades, Myers’ surviving relatives have lived with unanswered questions — where were his remains? And would he ever come home?

“It was very hard on my grandparents,” said Duane “Dew” Kloster, Myers’ nephew. “It was really a sore and unyieldingly painful spot for the entire family.”

This past winter, the family’s questions finally were answered. Relatives were notified that Myers’ remains had been identified using DNA analysis. The identification was part of an effort that began in 2015 to identify all remains from the USS Oklahoma that still are unknown.

Now, roughly 77 years after Pearl Harbor was attacked, Ray Harrison Myers is expected to return to Iowa in the coming week. He will be laid to rest beside his parents and his brother at Blodgett Cemetery in Central City.

None of the seaman’s surviving relatives are old enough to have met him. Duane is the son of Myers’ younger sister, Ruth June Myers. He, his sister Debra, and their cousins Stuart Myers, 67, of Loveland, Colo., and Janis Myers-Lewis, 68, of Longmont, Colo. — who are the children of Myers’ younger brother, Russell — are the surviving relatives who are closest generationally to Myers.

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The details they shared with The Gazette are rooted in decades-old memories likely altered by time and fading recollections.

Born in Marion to Ola H. Myers and Ina Marie Kee, Myers was the oldest of three children. At the age of 17, after convincing his father to sign off on it, Myers joined the U.S. Navy. Stuart said he believes his uncle did so to help his family financially.

Myers worked below deck as a supply clerk on the USS Oklahoma. Duane said it is believed Myers was working that morning when as many as nine torpedoes struck the side of the ship, causing the vessel to capsize.

The attack that spurred the United States’ entry into World War II sunk nine Navy ships and severely damaged 21 more, resulting in the deaths of 2,402 Americans, 429 of whom were sailors on the USS Oklahoma.

Myers’ parents were devastated by the news, the relatives recalled.

“I can remember (Ina) opening up her little desk, and she would get out Ray’s Purple Heart and a letter from the president expressing sympathy for her loss,” Stuart Myers said.

As a child, Stuart said he visited his grandparents — Myers’ parents — regularly, spending a weekend with them once or twice a month. Each time, he watched as his grandmother clutched her lost son’s medal and re-read the president’s words.

“It was heartbreaking,” he said. “I was just a little kid at the time, but I remember watching the expression on my grandmother’s face — it was just really emotional. She had always hoped to hear something about Ray being found before she died.”

Myers’ death left a dark cloud over his grandparents, Duane said, and that scar was passed down to the following generations.

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“We’ve all lived with Ray’s loss for decades,” he said. “It affected our grandparents, and that sadness was passed on to our parents (Ray’s siblings).”

“It was really hard on my father,” Stuart said. “He loved his brother, and he looked up to Ray.”

Though Russell didn’t speak much of his older brother, Stuart said he remembered his father telling him about how Ray had taught him (Russell) to box before shipping out.

“We’ve had high school classmates tell us that our father (Russell) changed after Ray died,” said Janis Myers-Lewis, Stuart’s sister. “He was angry and bitter that his brother had been killed, and I don’t think he ever got over it.”

Debra, too, said she remembers hearing stories about her uncle when she was a little girl, particularly one about the day he died.

“I was told that Ray’s roommate from the ship visited my grandparents after the attack to tell them he was dead,” she said.

The roommate explained that Myers had been below deck when the attack began, and he and hundreds of other sailors began making their way up the stairs so they could get on deck and evacuate. But Ray, she said, never made it out.

“The roommate said Ray had an asthma attack while on the stairs and couldn’t go any further,” she said.

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That story is unique to Debra’s memory. Neither Duane nor Stuart nor his sister Janis remember that story, and in talking to Myers’ relatives, The Gazette found that each family member’s memories were a little different. But the relatives all agree that the return of Ray’s remains is a source of comfort.

A graveside service, with full military honors, is planned for 11 a.m. July 13.

“I think there is a significant sense of relief for our family to know that he is finally returning home,” Kloster said.

Janis agreed, adding she hopes her uncle finally being laid to rest will bring the family peace.

“It’s a really big deal for our family,” Downing said. “More than anything I think our grandparents wanted to see his remains returned to Iowa before they died so he could be buried, but that didn’t happen. And I know if my uncle and my mother (Ray’s siblings) were still alive, it would be a really big deal for them, too. And even though we never met him, we see Ray as a hero, and we are happy to have him back so he can be buried beside his parents where he belongs.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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