Home at last: Remains of Pearl Harbor sailor identified, laid to rest in Idaho cemetery

SHELLEY, Idaho — Carl M. Bradley would have been 99 years old had he lived to his birthday last month. He could have been a grandfather several times over and perhaps a centenarian. But the sailor aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma died Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor.

Navy Fireman 2nd Class Carl Merrill Bradley of Shelley, Idaho, who was killed aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma during the attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Navy Fireman 2nd Class Carl Merrill Bradley of Shelley, Idaho, who was killed aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma during the attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Credit: Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

So to his family — and a small rural town in southeastern Idaho — he will be forever 19 years old.

Such was the legacy — and unforgotten valor — afforded Navy Fireman 2nd Class Carl Merrill Bradley on a sunny day, Saturday, June 26, at a small cemetery outside Shelley, Idaho. Eight decades after the young man was killed in the attack at Pearl Harbor, with DNA technology finally accounting for his remains, a flag-draped casket was sent home for military burial rites a few miles from the gray-stucco family home where he was raised with 12 siblings.

Receiving two ceremonial American flags at Hillcrest Cemetery was the youngest and last surviving member of the children of Amos Melvin and Hazel McGary Bradley. Karen Bradley Little was just 5 years old when her parents received that heart-rending Western Union telegram on Dec. 22, 1941, three days before Christmas.

Now 84 with silver hair, she stood with family and gazed at her big brother’s casket. Clasped in her hands was the first flag, one with 50 stars that had draped her brother’s casket, removed and folded by a Navy Honor Guard. The second, held by her husband, John Little, was a 48-star flag — the official U.S. flag during World War II — encased in a memorial wooden triangle-shaped box.

U.S. Navy Capt. Brian Anderson presents the flag of 48 stars in a memorial case to Karen Little during the military burial of her brother, Carl, who was killed at Pearl Harbor 80 years ago. The 48-star flag was the national flag in 1941. The services were June 26, 2021.
U.S. Navy Capt. Brian Anderson presents the flag of 48 stars in a memorial case to Karen Little during the military burial of her brother, Carl, who was killed at Pearl Harbor 80 years ago. The 48-star flag was the national flag in 1941. The services were June 26, 2021. Credit: Julie Dockstader Heaps

On that box is a tiny gold plaque with the sailor’s service information plus three simple words — “Home at last.”

“I did not know Carl, but his memory lives on in my mind, my heart because of the things the family has shared about Carl,” Kevin Landon, the sailor’s nephew, said in remarks just prior to dedicating the grave of his mother’s brother. “The only thing important to us as a family is to remember Carl. As my mom would say it, [Carl] is home at last — to be here in the family plot to rest with his family.”

A U.S. Army helmet and rifle, upon which hung the dog tags of Lynn Bradley, a recipient of the bronze star in World War II, stands in the foreground of the casket of Lynn’s little brother, Carl, who was returned home for burial in their hometown, Shelley, Idaho, after DNA finally identified his remains 80 years after Pearl Harbor. Both brothers are buried in the Bradley family plot. The services were June 26, 2021.
A U.S. Army helmet and rifle, upon which hung the dog tags of Lynn Bradley, a recipient of the bronze star in World War II, stands in the foreground of the casket of Lynn’s little brother, Carl, who was returned home for burial in their hometown, Shelley, Idaho, after DNA finally identified his remains 80 years after Pearl Harbor. Both brothers are buried in the Bradley family plot. The services were June 26, 2021. Credit: Julie Dockstader Heaps

Among the dozens gathered for the services were cousins from several generations of the sailor’s 12 brothers and sisters who lived to adulthood, including five other Bradley boys who served in World War II in various branches of the military. Adjacent the sailor’s new grave was the headstone of Lynn Bradley, who earned a bronze star with the U.S. Army.

Standing just a few feet from his uncle’s casket, Landon of the Shelley 6th Ward, Shelley Idaho Stake, encouraged the family to remember “he was willing to sacrifice his all for what we have today — freedom in this great nation.”

Participating in the military burial in this small farming town of more than 4,000 were members of the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Naval Reserve, the Navy Operational Support Center in Boise, Idaho, members of the American Legion and Patriot Guard Riders. The hearse was escorted by local law enforcement along roads lined by American flags. A 21-gun salute and taps sounded over the surrounding farmland, and three small planes flown by local pilots did flyovers.

In a conversation the night before the funeral, the Church News met with Karen Little of the Rancho Reata Ward, Kennewick Washington West Stake, and members of her family. She recalled receiving the call earlier this year from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Defense, that her brother’s remains had been identified. That he was coming home “was really profound. I had chills up my back and to my toes. I never thought it would happen.”

The U.S.S. Oklahoma
The U.S.S. Oklahoma Credit: Wikipedia

That journey began several years ago when the Defense POW/MIA organization began using DNA from living relatives to identify sailors. On that fateful Sunday in 1941, historically called the “Day of Infamy,” Carl Bradley was among the 429 who died on the “Okie,” as the shipmates called it, after nine torpedoes slammed into her side while moored on “Battleship Row.” The big ship quickly capsized.

In recovery efforts during ensuing months and years, only a few of the Oklahoma’s casualties were identified. Most were unidentifiable and buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, often called the “Punchbowl.”

But in 2015, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began exhuming and conducting testing on Oklahoma “unknowns” via the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System. Since then, some 338 individuals have been identified and returned to loved ones for military burial, according to a June 1, 2021, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency press release.

Carl Bradley was probably near the ship’s boilers, as a naval fireman, when the attack began and likely died in the early moments. But according to family history, shipmates already knew about him — his faith and integrity.

The last known letter from Navy Fireman 2nd Class Carl M. Bradley to his little sister Blanche was written in November 1941. It did not arrive in Shelley, Idaho, until after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when he was killed on the U.S.S. Oklahoma, most likely in the opening moments of the bombing.
The last known letter from Navy Fireman 2nd Class Carl M. Bradley to his little sister Blanche was written in November 1941. It did not arrive in Shelley, Idaho, until after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when he was killed on the U.S.S. Oklahoma, most likely in the opening moments of the bombing. Credit: Julie Dockstader Heaps

“We’ve always been LDS,” Karen Little said of her family. Her parents married in 1909 in the Salt Lake Temple and raised their 13 children in the faith. Their nine sons and four daughters were Valois, Wallace, Blanche, Lynn, Neil, Carl, Newell, Ruth, Robert, Alice, Ralph, Dal and Karen.

Amos Bradley, the father, tragically died several months after Pearl Harbor of a heart attack.

Son Wallace Bradley wrote in his personal history: “Carl’s death was very hard on Dad and Mother, but they adjusted to the shock with their testimony. This war was the start of many heartaches for all of us.”

All these years later, though, Michelle Simmons, the Littles’ daughter and a member of the Brownsville Ward, Silverdale Washington Stake, expressed this perspective: “We were raised to believe in God, that God would guide us wherever we go, whatever we do.

“Carl’s mission might be different,” she surmised. “He was taken, but he did a mission here and probably doing a mission there.”

Patriot Guard Riders from Idaho stand watch over the hearse carrying the remains of Navy Fireman 2nd Class Carl M. Bradley, who died at Pearl Harbor 80 years ago on the U.S.S. Oklahoma. After an eight-decade wait, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency under the Department of Defense identified the sailor’s remains through family DNA. He was interred Saturday, June 26, 2021, at the cemetery in his hometown, Shelley, Idaho.
Patriot Guard Riders from Idaho stand watch over the hearse carrying the remains of Navy Fireman 2nd Class Carl M. Bradley, who died at Pearl Harbor 80 years ago on the U.S.S. Oklahoma. After an eight-decade wait, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency under the Department of Defense identified the sailor’s remains through family DNA. He was interred Saturday, June 26, 2021, at the cemetery in his hometown, Shelley, Idaho. Credit: Julie Dockstader Heaps

In fact, as extended family were discussing “Uncle Carl” recently, they learned a little about his life onboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma.

“Carl had made such an impression on one of his shipmates, being a clean-cut Mormon boy, that this sailor went home [after the war], and he joined the Church,” said Karen Little, noting that the shipmate raised his family in the Latter-day Saint faith.

Added Little: “All because of Carl.”

NOTE: Some historical information in this article came from a May 14, 2021, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency press release; the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; and a May 28, 2021, article in the Shelley, Idaho, Community Pioneer by Jeff Kelley.