LEWISPORT, Ky. (BP) – Joyce Phillips Nall still has the grass skirt her Uncle Daymond sent from Hawaii 80 years ago when he was stationed on the USS Oklahoma.
“Tried it on and just played with it forever. And it had a little orange and yellow lei that also came with it,” Nall, now 85, said from her home in Owensboro, Ky. “Now the lei did not make it, but the grass skirt I still have.”
Martin Daymond Young’s mother had begged him not to enlist in the Navy in 1940 when war seemed imminent, his nephew Joseph Hawkins said.
Young was among 429 crew members who perished aboard the USS Oklahoma when the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, just 16 months after he enlisted. More than 2,400 U.S. personnel died in the surprise attack that destroyed or damaged 19 U.S. Navy ships.
“His words to my mother [were], ‘I can get killed in a car wreck just as easy as I can aboard a ship,” said Hawkins, 74, whose mother Mary Daisy Hawkins was Young’s twin sister. The family lived in Hawesville and attended Lewisport Baptist Church, where Hawkins is still a member.
Mary Daisy Hawkins so loved her brother that when she bought family burial plots she included one for him. Decades after his death, Young’s remains were laid to rest May 14 beside his sister, who held out hope for his return nearly until her death in 1985. When she died, her brother’s name was listed as “non-recoverable” on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.
“She just talked about him just like he was alive, I mean, all her life,” Hawkins said of his mother. “At the end, she knew they wasn’t gonna find him.”
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear ordered flags lowered to half-staff across Kentucky the day of the burial. Fireman 2nd Class Young, 21 at the time of his death, was buried with full military honors.
“It took a long time to get him home, but we honor the sacrifice of Navy Fireman Martin Young no less,” Beshear said in a press release. “All of our veterans and their families have earned our respect and compassion for their service.”
Hawkins and the other 60 or so relatives who attended the funeral and burial appreciate the community and military support.
“We’re really proud of the Navy. The whole county came out,” Hawkins said. “We went to Louisville to get him of course. Rolling Thunder with 50 motor bikes … and the state police. Everybody escorted us from Louisville to Lewisport.
“They (the Hancock County Fire Department) put 600 American flags in Lewisport. Everybody was out on the streets. It was just like a giant parade,” Hawkins said. “Just like the mayor of Lewisport told me, ‘the biggest thing to ever happen in Lewisport.’ We thought just family would bring him to the burial. We didn’t realize it was going to get so big.”
Nall, who was 5 when her uncle died, is the oldest living relative.
“I can remember that he has very tall and very handsome. He used to pick me up and twirl me around,” Nall said. “When he was killed I think my mother must have protected me from that knowledge, not that it would have meant a great deal, because I was too young to really understand. But I don’t remember a lot of conversation about his being killed.”
Hawkins remembers Young as a favorite uncle, as do his cousins, fueled by the memories his mother often shared.
“We’re all crazy about him because she talked about him all her life,” Hawkins said. “We feel like we know him. We took Mother over to Hawaii on the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.” His mother and his uncle would have been 101 on May 11.
“She would have loved this,” he said of his mother. “That was just her personality, and she’d be happy.”
Before being exhumed in 2015, Young’s remains were among other unidentified remains buried in 46 mass graves at the Honolulu Memorial. Hawkins was among five of Young’s relatives who submitted DNA samples to help the military identify those exhumed. Young’s bones were identified in 2019, and a rosette now decorates his name on the Courts of the Missing to indicate he is now identified.
The twins now lie side by side.
“My son said … he’s sitting there in that grave saying, ‘You all moved me from Hawaii to Lewisport, Ky.?’” quipped Hawkins, who has visited the Lewisport grave daily.
Hawkins, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, describes his family as a military family. All but one of his four brothers also served.
Young’s family had held out hope that he survived the attack, perhaps having exited the ship on a liberty pass for the weekend.
“They always told me the mother never thinks they’re gone. They’ve got to see them,” Hawkins said. “I fought in Vietnam and all my friends that died, the parents had to see them. They had to see them in that coffin. They say you don’t really want to see them, but they do.
“They’ve got to know for sure, and of course they never got that.”