MERRY OAKS – A day that will live in infamy has led, after nearly eight decades, to a day filled with dignity.
Navy Seaman 2nd Class Howard Scott Magers, among the 2,403 Americans killed during the Japanese attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base on Dec. 7, 1941, came home Saturday.
Magers’ remains, identified by the federal Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency using DNA testing and other technology, were laid to rest with full military honors in the rural Barren County community where he played, worked and eventually made the fateful decision to join the U.S. Navy at age 17.
A crowd of nearly 500 people – including some four dozen members of the multi-state Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle group and a contingent from the Louisville-based Sons of the American Revolution in full Revolutionary War garb – turned out for a Memorial Day weekend funeral service befitting a sailor who was a casualty of a world-altering event.
Magers, who was 18 when he died in an attack that launched the United States into World War II, received full military honors, including a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps by Navy Musician 1st Class BJ Britt, a Warren County native.
“I’m very proud to be able to do this, especially right around the corner from where I grew up,” Britt said.
Others expressed the same pride in being able to honor Magers in the service held on the grounds of the 120-year-old Merry Oaks United Methodist Church that is less than a mile from the Warren County line.
“It has been an honor to be able to work on something like this and to bring a serviceman home who gave his life for our country,” said Chris Smith, funeral director at the Hardy & Sons Funeral Home that handled the service.
Bro. Rick DeVoe of Oak Forest Baptist Church in Smiths Grove, who delivered the memorial message, was similarly moved by the occasion.
Speaking of Magers’ decision to enlist in the Navy at age 17 when military conflicts were brewing in Europe and Asia, DeVoe said: “For sure, Magers had heard those winds of war. He was willing to step up and do his part.
“His honor is all that he left, but what a great legacy that is.”
Magers, whose parents both died in 1939, was one of two Barren County natives to die aboard the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor.
According to Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency records, Elmer Patterson Lawrence of Barren County was a Seaman 1st Class who died at age 25. His remains are among more than 300 from the USS Oklahoma that have been identified, but so far no decision has been made on returning his remains to his home county for burial.
Magers has few remaining relatives. His three brothers and one sister have all died, but sister-in-law Betty Magers – who married Howard Magers’ younger brother James – still lives in the Merry Oaks area and recalls a youthful Magers.
“My parents had a general store in Hays,” said Betty Magers, 91. “He (Howard Magers) would come real often to the store.
“We had a juke box, and he liked to play the song ‘South of the Border’ by Gene Autry. He was real friendly and always pleasant. I’m just happy that he can be home.”
Magers was interred Saturday in a grave with a military headstone that is next to the graves of his parents, Carl and Verda Magers.
Like the church building, the cemetery has a long history. Before Magers’ remains were buried Saturday, the cemetery was already home to a number of graves of military veterans that were decorated for the holiday.
“I think he is our 33rd military veteran,” said Ronnie Pennycuff, who oversees the cemetery. “We’re honored that he’s going to be laid to rest here.”