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Barber brothers back home in New London nearly 80 years after Pearl Harbor attack

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 2:30 PM CDT
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NEW LONDON, Wis. (WBAY) - Nearly 80 years after losing their lives in the attack at Pearl Harbor, the remains of three brothers are back in New London.

December 7, 1941, has haunted the community for decades.

“Even as a kid growing up we heard the story of what happened with the Oklahoma being sunk in Pearl Harbor and the three brothers being on it at the time, and the whole town, it was 20 years before I was born, but I know it was a major event in the city,” recalls Kent Rusch, owner of Cline & Hanson Funeral Home.

Navy sailors Malcom, Leroy and Randolph Barber died that day along with 426 other crew members on board the USS Oklahoma.

“Shortly before December 7th, their father wrote a letter to the U.S. Navy saying, hey, I really don’t like the idea of my three sons being on the same ship and asked to have them put on different ships,” explains Rusch.

Tragically, the request was too late, but it did help change Navy policy forever.

“After that, they never would allow brothers to go on the same ship anymore,” says Rusch.

In the days and weeks following the attack at Pearl Harbor, bodies of sailors aboard the Oklahoma were recovered and buried, unidentified, in a cemetery overlooking Honolulu known as the Punch Bowl.

“About 10 years ago, the government began trying to identify the remains through DNA and since have identified I think pretty much all the crew members,” explains Rusch.

Including the Barber brothers, whose remains arrived one by one in Milwaukee, beginning Tuesday through Thursday.

On each occasion, six Navy sailors carried their flag-draped coffin from the plane to the hearse.

Now at Cline and Hanson Funeral Home, the brothers remains will be cremated and their urns buried at a gravesite that’s sat empty for all these years.

“80 years later, they’re back in New London,” says Rusch.

The Barber brothers will be buried with full military honors on September 11 at 11 A.M. at Most Precious Blood Cemetery in New London.

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