Celebrating Heroes

Indiana family gets closure 81 years after sailor’s death at Pearl Harbor

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — After more than eight decades, a family from Indiana recently got the chance to say goodbye to a sailor killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Francis Hannon, or “Bud,” as he was called, grew up in Middletown, a Henry County community of about 2,300 people.

Francis Hannon. (Provided Photo/US Navy)

In 1939, Hannon went to Indianapolis and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He, like much of his family at the time, felt it was his duty to serve his country, relatives tell News 8.

Hannon was stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where he served as a Shipfitter 3rd Class aboard a battleship called the USS Oklahoma. He served on the Oklahoma for two years and was out of harm’s way — much to the delight of his mother.

But when Hannon, then just 20 years old, went to bed on Dec. 6, 1941, he had no idea that the next day would be his last.

The Oklahoma, with Hannon on board, was one of the ships destroyed or damaged by Japanese forces in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.

The battleship was hit by multiple Japanese torpedoes. It capsized, resulting in the deaths of Hannon and 428 other crewmen. Overall, the attack killed 2,403 U.S. personnel.

“When Bud went to bed on Saturday night, he was in paradise and we were not at war, and the next morning, before noon, he was gone,” John Reddington, Hannon’s cousin, said.

Reddington and Vanessa Hannon Helming are Hannon’s cousins, although they were born years after Hannon’s death.

Helming says her dad, also Hannon’s cousin, learned of his death a short time after the attack.

“My dad was in California, waiting to meet Bud on his R&R. That’s when Pearl Harbor got hit, and my dad said he knew in his heart that Bud was killed and that he would never see him again,” Helming said.

Hannon’s relatives say his death was hard on the family because his body could not be identified after the battleship capsized.

An attempt to identify the remains in 1947 resulted in the identification of just 35 crewmembers from the Oklahoma. Those who could not be identified, including Hannon, were classified as “non-recoverable” and buried at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, also known as the Punchbowl.

“Of course, back then, the family was so much closer than they are today, but it really took a toll on them,” Helming said.

In 2015, personnel from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, an agency that works to account for the country’s missing and unaccounted-for military personnel, exhumed the remains of the Hannon and other unidentified sailors.

Scientists identified Hannon using dental, anthropological, and mitochondrial DNA analysis. He was accounted for on Aug. 28, 2017, but it wasn’t until recently that Hannon’s family learned of the news.

Reddington says It was an opportunity for the family to get the closure that was long overdue.

“Our parents who were directly involved in that conflict survived. Bud never had the chance to have that family, and have his family members enjoy that life, so the least the rest of us can do and have the obligation to do, is to remember and honor him,” Reddington said.

The family was flown out to Hawaii, and on Oct. 13, they attended Hannon’s interment at the Punchbowl, 81 years after his tragic death.

“It was just a wonderful thing to be able to finally go back and represent the family, to give him the honors he deserved 81 years ago,” Reddington said.

Helming says it was emotional in many different ways and, while it originally started as a way to honor their parents, they quickly felt an attachment to a man they never really knew.

“I just got overcome with emotion, and it was for Bud. If other people had not done what they did, and gave the ultimate sacrifice, like Bud, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” said Helming said.

Finally, after 81 years, an Indiana sailor got the goodbye he deserved so long ago.