By Gloria Roemer
Mortimer and Melina Saunders of Stowell never gave up hope that their son, Seaman 2nd Class Charles L. “Sonny Boy” Saunders, would eventually be brought home. He was assigned to the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor and killed on December 7, 1941. Thirty-two crewmen were saved and 429 were missing or killed. Charles, 18 years old, was unaccounted for. On December 21, 1941, Mortimer and Melina Saunders were informed that their son was missing and presumed dead. In October of 1942, the remains of the crew were found. At the time, 48 recovered remained unidentified and 13 of the crew remained unaccounted for. Charles’ remains were not identified. Despite that, in September of 1964, Mortimer Saunders ordered the memorial headstone for Charles maintaining hope that one day his son’s remains would be identified and brought home. Then, in 2015, using advanced forensic technology, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agenda ((DPAA), began painstaking tests on the unidentified remains of the crew of the USS Oklahoma. The Saunders family tirelessly provided the Navy with DNA of family members to try and make a positive identify of Charles’ remains. And, on February 11, 2021, DPAA contacted Charles’ niece, Neica Franklin Bertrand, to inform her that a positive identify was made of Charles’ remains.
Eighty years after his death, on Tuesday, December 7, 2021, Charles was finally laid to rest at Fairview Cemetery next to his parents and next to a headstone for his cousin, Sidney Melvin Saunders, who was stationed on the USS Neosho. Sidney was killed on May 7,1942, in the Coral Sea by a Japanese attack on the USS Neosho. His body has never been recovered.
Hundreds of citizens throughout the region attended the full military gravesite service for Saunders. Lieutenant Commander Alexandria Geovanni, CHS, USN delivered an emotional eulogy on the 18 years of Charles’ life as well as an inspiring message about how this great country is worth fighting and dying for. He received a 21-gun salute and a naval bugler performed taps. Coast Guard veteran Brian Sharaji, who is a distant relative of Saunders, performed Ave Maria on the bagpipes.
Thank you, Charles, for your service, and 80 years after making the ultimate sacrifice for this unbelievable country, you have brought a renewal of patriotism and appreciation of our nation and especially of those who defend her. Rest in peace.