On March 8th, Tallahassee's National Cemetery will provide a final resting place for one of the thousands of U.S. service members who died during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The sister and niece of this fallen hero will be among those on hand to welcome him.
More than 2,300 Americans died during the Japanese assault. Tallahassee's Sandy Delopez said the initial question for her family was whether her uncle - Earl Paul Baum - was among them.
“After Dec. 7, my grandparents, Earl’s parents and my mom’s parents, were trying to find out what happened to him. They knew he was on the U.S.S. Oklahoma, which was there in Pearl Harbor and that it had been sunk.”
Earl's sister and Sandy's mom, Emily Golz, soon learned the family had reason to fear the worst.
“There were a lot of boys left on the ship,” she noted. “It just rolled over and they couldn’t get them off right away."
Emily was 15 years old at the time of Pearl Harbor. Her 19-year old brother Earl, was among the 429 Oklahoma sailors who died. Sandy Delopez and Emily Golz said the bodies trapped aboard the capsized battleship were eventually recovered and interred nearby in rather unceremonious fashion.
“They couldn’t identify the remains because they were comingled in common graves,” Delopez pointed out. “They were working on it for years to identify them,” added Golz. “There was a doctor in Hawaii who did that.” “But he didn’t match anybody,” interjected Delopez, “because they were comingled. So they weren’t able to reconstruct and there was nothing to identify because they’d been under salt water, gas and oil.”
But then the development of DNA matching technology changed everything.
“My mom gave her DNA in 2012 at the request of the Navy. They were tracking down next-of-kin and were inviting her to update meetings.”
“And my two sisters as well, the three of us gave our DNA and I think with the three of us doing it, it speeded it up a little bit,” Golz said.
Suddenly, the family received the word they'd been awaiting for more than three-quarters of a century: Earl Paul Baum had been found.
“The Navy exhumed the bodies in 2015 and in a laboratory setting they started the matching process,” Delopez said. “On September 21st of last year we got a phone call from the Navy saying they had the DNA match and it’s official now.”
Baum's remains were positively identified in a Nebraska laboratory. From there, Sandy Delopez said they will be escorted with full military honors throughout their final journey.
“And then he’s accompanied by honor guard all the way from Nebraska to Tallahassee. At each airport transfer point – everything has to go through Atlanta – there will be a guard that will do the transfer to the Tallahassee flight and then there will be an honor guard in Tallahassee to receive him and transfer him to the funeral hearse.”
On March 8th, the surviving members of Earl's family from all over the country will gather at the Tallahassee National Cemetery for a solemn ceremony. Sandy and her mom Emily are already quite familiar with that peaceful location.
“My husband is buried there now, too,” said Golz with her daughter noting he’d died just two years earlier. “He was in the Navy and was friends with Earl because they grew up in the same neighborhood.” And Golz added that closeness will continue in perpetuity, softly chuckling, “They’ll be about a block apart.”