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Pittsburgh-area native killed in Pearl Harbor attack returns home for burial

Pittsburgh-area native killed in Pearl Harbor attack buried at National Cemetery of the Alleghenies
Pittsburgh-area native killed in Pearl Harbor attack buried at National Cemetery of the Alleghenies 02:31

BRIDGEVILLE, Pa. (KDKA) -- More than 80 years ago, in the attack on Pearl Harbor, a U.S. Navy fireman was among the 400 sailors killed aboard the USS Oklahoma. Until a few years ago, his remains were still not identified. But on Thursday, the Beaver County native finally found his way home and was laid to rest. 

The story of U.S. Navy Fireman First Class Walter Schleiter began in Freedom, Pennsylvania in 1919. While Schleiter's family was from the Pittsburgh area, he spent most of his adolescence some 100 miles away in Massillon, Ohio.

He was just 21 when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1940 and a little over a year later, he became one of the first American casualties of World War II when the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Schleiter, along with some 400 of his crew, were killed after several Japanese torpedoes hit and capsized their ship the USS Oklahoma.

Like so many people who were killed at Pearl Harbor, Schleiter's remains weren't able to be identified. He was actually buried in Hawaii as an unknown during the war. Then in 2015, a family member gave a DNA sample to the Navy and from there, they were able to identify his remains. Schleiter's living relatives in Pennsylvania and Ohio asked that his body be brought back to western Pennsylvania to finally be buried.

Now some 83 years later, Schleiter is finally home and being laid to rest at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies with full military honors.

Several of Schleiter's descendants from the area were present Thursday to pay tribute to their relative, a relation they never got to meet in person. And while the family didn't wish to speak to the media that was present, KDKA-TV was able to speak with some of the dozens of people who came out to show their support and their gratitude for this sailor.

"Every veteran has a story," said Pennsylvania state Sen. Devlin Robinson, who is also a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. "Every veteran joined the military for one reason or another, but they really joined to serve their country. And some didn't make it home and some weren't identified. I felt very proud to be able to be a part of giving (Schleiter) the honor he deserves at his final resting place."

"I'm just grateful to be a part of something so historic," said Chaplain Major Jeremy Caskey of the U.S. Air Force. "And I am grateful we get a chance to lay this man to rest, who did not have that opportunity, all those years ago."

Of the 429 sailors killed on the USS Oklahoma, only 32 are still unidentified and buried as unknowns at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

But for Fireman First Class Walter Schleiter, he has finally found his way home.

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