SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – It is a homecoming more than 78 years overdue. A Pearl Harbor veteran who died in 1941 finally returned home to New Mexico on Monday.
“If you are gone for a while, and you come home… There is nothing like home,” Gerald Clark said.
Navy Fireman 1st Class Billy J. Johnson is finally home. “This is probably one of the best days of my life,” Clark said. “I can’t say anything else about that. Good day.”
Johnson spent his teenage years in Chama. He was among 429 crew members of the USS Oklahoma who lost their lives in Pearl Harbor. His remains were unidentified for years, leaving a void in the family. “We always had Billy on our minds, always,” Clark said. “He was never forgotten.
Clark, who is Johnson’s nephew, provided a DNA sample that led to a positive identification of Johnson’s remains in February. “I have lost my parents, and I lost two brothers,” Clark said. “I never cried at their funerals. I lost a lot of friends, and I never had tears at funerals. This is the most emotional funeral I ever took part in.”
Family watched as Johnson was re-interred at the Santa Fe National Cemetery with military honors. Clark said it was a long-time coming for a fallen hero. “Billy is home,” Clark said. “We don’t have to worry about anything anymore. He is home.”
The Department of Defense was only able to identify 35 of the deceased Oklahoma crew members. The remaining were laid to rest as unidentified at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.