U.S. Navy sailor to return home to Michigan 70+ years after his death

BURTON, Mich. (WXYZ) - He was never forgotten, but he never made it home — a Michigan man killed in action more than 70 years ago will now return to his rightful resting place.

It’s been more than 70 years since Fred Jones died aboard the USS Oklahoma, one of the 429 men who died on that ship during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The names of those men have been etched into history by loved ones, and war historians, but until now Jones never made it home.

Thanks to advancements in DNA research, the military recently was able to identify the bones of Fred Jones. This weekend, after a 76-year wait, Jones’ body will be flown to Detroit Metro airport for the beginning of a trip that will return him to the cemetery where the rest of his family is buried.

“I love my grandmother, and I want him to be buried next to her,” said Sue Nichols, the grandniece who never had the honor to meet Jones — but has taken it upon herself to schedule the ceremonies that will surround Jones’ final trip home.

"I think he's a good looking guy. I'm glad he's in our family. I wish I could have got to meet him. I really do.”

Fred Jones entered the Navy in 1929, he was 19-years-old at the time. He left behind his home of Otter Lake, Michigan but would eventually marry and have two kids. His daughter Leilani Ronninger will be there when her father is buried - she along with family from as far away as Seattle are flying in for a special ceremony on Saturday.

Jones will return to the airport in the morning, but be taken to a funeral home in Port Huron. A number of funeral staff members, Liberty Riders, and the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department plan to escort the family to a graveside service that will be open to the public.

The graveside service begins at 1 p.m. at Lakeside Cemetery. Military honors will be given for Jones during the ceremony.

Nichols said she’s happy that her grand uncle will finally have a chance to rest in peace, however, the idea of how he died during the fateful attacks on December 7, 1941, still shakes her to the core.

"They were just caught unaware,” said Nichols. “All those young men died. I just can't imagine.”

Jones was posthumously awarded the purple heart years after his service. He is survived by his daughter, granddaughter, two great-grandchildren and his grandniece Nichols.

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