Dec. 7, 2019 will mark 78 years since U.S. Navy Motor Machinist Mate First Class Ulis C. Steely was one of the 2,335 military personnel killed in the Imperial Japanese Navy’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Steely, whose remains were identified just last year, was reunited with his parents Saturday afternoon as he was buried alongside them at Corinth Cemetery in Corbin.
Fred Lunsford, who had retired from the Navy, was among the Patriot Guard Riders who escorted the funeral procession to the church and then the cemetery.
“You don’t know what an honor that would be for a sailor in this day and age to be able to pay honor and escort a fallen shipmate from a past generation to his final rest,” Lunsford said. “It has got be one of the greatest honors I have ever had in the United States Navy.”
Family members, including Steely’s grandsons Dean, Mark and Jake, granddaughter, Sharon Steely-Amarantos, nephews Coy and Robert Steely, and Eddie White, nieces Betty Carroll, Bobbie Chism, and Brenda White were among those who gathered at Grace on the Hill United Methodist Church for his funeral.
As part of the service, each family member was given the opportunity to speak about Ulis and what it meant to have him back home.
Lorrie Steely, Ulis’ granddaughter-in-law, said since his parents had erected a memorial marker for him at the cemetery, it was only right to have him returned to be buried alongside them.
“We knew this is where he had to be,” Lorrie said.
Pastor Bobby Joe Eaton was chosen to officiate.
Eaton said he knew the Steely family, including Ulis’ parents, Reverand Edd and Minnie Steely, noting that he now serves as pastor at Poplar Grove Baptist Church where Edd previously served.
Eaton said it is difficult to imagine what went through the minds of Edd and Minnie when the individual tasked with telling them of their son’s death arrived at their door, especially since Edd had likely delivered similar news to members of his congregation in the past.
“I imagine they read Psalm 23 because of the comfort it provides,” Eaton said.
“I imagine he would have shared about Jesus going to prepare a place for them.”
The funeral concluded when Retired Petty Officer Second Class Les Williamson played the ship’s boatswain pipe and the ringing of “Eight Bells” which signals the end of watch on a ship.
“This is personal to me,” Williamson said noting the pipe and bell are used to announce the departure of a fallen shipmate as the sailor leaves the vessel for the final time.
“Fair winds and smooth seas. Your duty is done. Your watch is now over. We now have the helm,” Williamson said before sounding “Eight Bells.”
Following the funeral, Ulis was taken to Corinth Cemetery where he was rendered final military honors, including the 21-gun salute, and playing of “Taps.”
The Navy honor guard folded the flag that had adorned Ulis’ casket one final time before it was presented to the family at the conclusion of the service.
Ulis Steely was one of 429 crewmen of the battleship USS Oklahoma, killed when the ship capsized after being struck by at least five torpedoes.
A number of the victims from the Oklahoma and other ships sunk or damaged in the attack were recovered from the harbor in the days following the attack. However it wasn’t until the Oklahoma was righted and refloated in 1943 that the remains of the crew members that went down with the ship were recovered.
Steely’s remains were among those recovered, but at the time positive identification of individual sailors and Marines was impossible. As a result, he was buried along with other unidentified victims of the attack in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries.
In 2015, the remains of 46 Oklahoma unknowns were again exhumed for DNA analysis.
His remains were positively identified on Nov. 4, 2018.