NEWPORT TWP. — Retired history teacher Jane Straub often told her classes the story of Navy Seaman 1st Class Edward F. Slapikas, and how his remains were never found at Pearl Harbor.
“My mother was in the eighth grade (during) the attack on Pearl Harbor,” Straub said. “I grew up hearing the story of Edward Slapikas.”
On Saturday, Straub joined hundreds of well-wishers in paying respect to the American hero as Slapikas was laid to rest in the small Pennsylvania town that he left nearly eight decades ago.
“It’s truly unimaginable,” Straub said. “After 76 years, the fact they were able to bring him home in a casket speaks volumes.”
Slapikas, of Wanamie, was aboard the USS Oklahoma when Japanese kamikaze pilots torpedoed his ship in Pearl Harbor. The U.S. Navy and Defense Department recently identified his remains through DNA testing.
U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Mark Fung, a veteran of several overseas deployments, said he was honored to attend Saturday’s ceremonies.
“It’s a tie to the past,” Fung said. “It reaffirms the Navy’s commitment to return the remains of a loved one to the family members, especially after all these years.”
Wanamie residents lined the 2-mile route from Holy Spirit/St. Adalbert’s Parish to St. Mary’s Cemetery on Saturday morning to see Slapikas’ funeral procession, waving American flags from the sidewalks, lawns and porches in a show of respect.
Jamie Miller, leader of Girl Scouts Heart of Pennsylvania Brownie Troop 32114, was accompanied by three flag-waving young Brownies.
“I think it was very important to explain to the girls what happened,” Miller said. “The significance of Pearl Harbor and the importance to give a proper burial was imperative.”
Slapikas’ funeral and burial hit close to home for Miller, as she has a son currently deployed in the Navy.
“Slapikas will forever be young,” Miller said. “It doesn’t matter if a week goes by or 76 years, his return home is important.”
Glen Lyon resident Verne Treat, a self-proclaimed naval historian, felt it was his duty to attend the services for Slapikas.
“It’s the men like Edward that helped build America,” Treat said.
“Patriotism was represented in full force,” he continued. “I commend everyone that came out and showed support for this American hero.”
“Patriotism was alive and well in Wanamie,” he said.
“Military service is just that, service,” Fung added. “We are who we are today, because of the legacy of the people who have gone before us and this is an example of that.”