HUDSON FALLS — On a windy Tuesday morning, in a snow-covered cemetery, Matt Rozell’s history class took a somber turn.
Rozell and about 25 Hudson Falls High School seniors stood in the fresh snow at a memorial stone that read, “H. Randolph Holmes,” followed by the words, “Died in action at Pearl Harbor,” “Age 19 yrs” and “U.S. Navy.”
Holmes had been a student in Hudson Falls’ Class of 1942 but left school early, joined the Navy and was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
“We wanted to make sure we didn’t forget Randy,” Rozell told the group, which had taken a quick bus ride on Route 4 to the Moss Street Cemetery. “Especially you in the Class of 2017 because it’s the 75th anniversary of the year he should have graduated.”
Holmes was aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma during the attack and was one of 429 men killed when the ship was struck and capsized. Like many of the sailors on the Oklahoma, his body was not recovered for 18 months and has never been identified. Holmes was buried, with the other “unknown” Oklahoma sailors, in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the “Punchbowl.”
Several years ago, one of Rozell’s students located Holmes’ name on the memorial to those who died on the Oklahoma.
Two of Rozell’s students said Tuesday they had no idea a former Hudson Falls student had died at Pearl Harbor.
“I had no clue,” said Alex Prouty, who went on to talk about what she and her classmates had learned about the attack. “We learned that there was a loss of a lot of lives and that a lot of people went missing. No one was prepared for it, and our military did the best they could to protect us.”
Jacob Fabian said he learned about Holmes in class as well.
“Before class, no, I didn’t know anything, but now, yes, because of Mr. Rozell’s book,” Fabian said. “We learned a lot about Pearl Harbor, what its effects were, why and how it happened and how monumental it was.”
During the brief ceremony Tuesday morning, one of the students held up a picture of Holmes from the Class of 1942 yearbook and another held the yearbook itself as they stood by the memorial stone. Rozell had a student hand out black stones, and the students wrote on them and left them on the stone.
“This year’s yearbook is also going to have a page for Randy,” said Rozell, who has written two books on World War II and is working on several more. “It’s important for us to remember him.”
Holmes may yet come home.
Five formerly “unknown” sailors from the USS Oklahoma were identified in January, using medical records. The identifications are the first to come from a project that began in April 2015 when the Defense Department announced plans to exhume an estimated 388 of the Oklahoma’s unknowns.
The first exhumations took place June 8, 2015, and the last four caskets were dug up Nov. 9, 2015.
Sixty-one caskets were retrieved from 45 graves. The caskets were heavily corroded and had to be forced open.
The remains were removed and cleaned and photographed. The skeletons were flown to the lab in Nebraska for further analysis, but skulls were retained in Hawaii, where the Defense Department’s forensic dentists are based.
Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.