LUBBOCK, Texas – Dec. 7, 1941, was the day the Japanese Imperial Navy bombed the Pearl Harbor naval base and killed more than 2,000 Americans.
Petty Officer First Class Harvey Christopher Herber of Tacoma, WA was serving aboard the USS Oklahoma (BB-37) that day when his ship was hit by torpedoes and flipped upside down. Herber was one of 429 men who wouldn’t survive the attack. Many families who had loved ones die serving on the Oklahoma that day were unable to identify them, but for a Lubbock family, that closure came Wednesday afternoon.
Herber’s nephew Jerry Johnson, Sr. made a promise to his grandfather, William Melvin Herber, that he would find his brother Harvey Herber’s remains and bring him home.
According to the DPAA, scientific staff at the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks were only able to identify 35 of the Oklahoma’s casualties after the incident. This left 394 Oklahoma service members still unaccounted for. While hundreds of remains had been recovered as believed-to-be Oklahoma Sailors and Marines, the vast majority of these could not be identified with scientific methods available at the time. These remains became World War II Unknowns, buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP) in 1949.
In 2015, Johnson submitted his DNA to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) which was able to reexamine unknown remains from the Oklahoma. Herber’s would be successfully identified.
“My grandpa took it hard, as the whole family did at the time,” Johnson said. “It’s just so unbelievable what they can do with the DNA and put everything back together, because they were commingled in the Punchbowl.”
Between 2015 and 2021, DPAA individually identified 355 of the USS Oklahoma’s personnel. Through all identification efforts, 396 of the USS Oklahoma’s personnel have been accounted for. DPAA made the last individual identification on Oct. 14, 2021, and accounted for the remaining 33 sailors as a group later that month. Those 33 sailors were reinterred at the NMCP on Dec. 7, 2021, the 80th anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor.
20 years after Harvey Herber’s death, his family relocated to Texas.
On Wednesday, Johnson’s promise to his grandfather, William Herber, came true. Harvey Herber’s remains were pieced back together and flown home to his family in Lubbock for a proper burial.
“The outpouring has been just unbelievable,” Johnson said. “You cannot do this by yourself. Everybody pitched in and it’s been a blessing and it takes a load off you.”
Johnson served 3 tours in Vietnam. He described the moment he saw his great uncle Harvey Herber’s flag-draped coffin come off the plane as breathtaking.
“I’d seen that before, and it brought back a lot more than just that,” Johnson said. “It brings back a lot. I was talking to a couple of veterans out there and they felt the same thing. It’s overwhelming.”
Petty Officer First Class Harvey Christopher Herber, thank you for your service, and welcome home.
“To know that he’s being taken care of, it’s from the heart, that he’s loved, and that we’re doing the right things for the right reasons,” Johnson said.
Harvey Herber will be buried Friday, March 24 at Peaceful Gardens Memorial Park (15602 TX-493 Loop). During the ceremony, a dove will be released as a message Johnson hopes his late grandfather, William Herber, will receive to know his brother, Harvey Herber, has finally made it home.