After more than seven decades of being listed as missing in action the remains of Howard Verne Keffer, a Holtville resident who was killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, were identified and peacefully put to rest.
"It's amazing we're bringing our hometown hero back home," said Kim Vincent, past president (2006-19) of the American Legion Auxiliary Bradley Keffer Unit 138. "And we finally have closure with his remains being discovered in January 2018."
Auxiliary Unit 138 was re-chartered in 1941 to honor two servicemen, Keffer, and Roland Bradley, who was killed during World War I. Both names are listed on the memorial wall in Holt Park.
Keffer, who was born in Los Angeles in 1915, attended college for three years then moved to Holtville to help his parents, Howard and Laverne, run their farm. In 1936, he married Irma Ruth Lott.
In October 1940, he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He shipped out to Hawaii in November 1941 and joined the crew of the battleship USS Oklahoma just weeks before it was attacked on Dec. 7.
Petty Officer Third Class Keffer was a radio operator and among 429 crewmen who died on the Oklahoma when it sustained numerous torpedo hits that caused it capsize.
Unidentified remains from the USS Oklahoma were buried in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. Keffer's death was reported in the Christmas Day edition of the Los Angeles Times.
In April 2015, the deputy secretary of defense ordered the exhuming of the remains associated with the USS Oklahoma from the cemetery for analysis. Scientists from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency successfully made a match with Keffer's biomedical data on file.
"We're thankful for the investigation and the mitochondrial DNA research the government now conducts," said Vincent. "We're now able to rebury hundreds and hundreds of service members from previous wars."
Socially engaged while at school, Keffer was said to be well liked and he was active in the local 20-30 Club. The 20-30 Club was created to provide younger adults the opportunity to lead, as top positions in established service clubs at that time were dominated by older men.
Keffer was laid to rest at NMCP in Honolulu on July 23, a day in which three other service members were interred. Vincent explained a cousin of Keffer spent the week in Honolulu for the burial ceremony. She also invited Keffer's cousin to Holtville for the Veterans Day Parade but she expressed a preference for Pearl Harbor Day.
Karen Gibbs, an Auxiliary Unit 138 member, was appreciative of the discovery too.
"This is exciting news for the auxiliary--it couldn't be greater, that they found his remains. We hope to meet his cousin when she arrives," Gibbs said.
Added Vincent, "I'm thankful Howard (Keffer) was finally given a proper burial. We're now working on identifying remains from other crew members of the USS Oklahoma."
Coincidentally, Vincent recently moved to Oklahoma, though she retains close ties to Holtville and its American Legion lodge.