To North Albany resident Rosella Workinger, Claude Gowey was the typical “ornery” older brother. He loved to tease her as they worked together on their family farm — first in Iowa and then near Tangent during the Great Depression.
But Workinger, 94, never got to see him grow up.
Her brother — known as Junior — was among the more than 2,000 sailors, soldiers and civilians who died when the Japanese Imperial Army attacked Pearl Harbor in the early morning hours of Dec. 7, 1941.
And for more than 70 years, Workinger wondered whether Junior — who served on the USS Oklahoma — really was dead.
But three years ago, Workinger was notified that the Department of Defense was matching DNA records of bones buried in unmarked graves in Hawaii. She and her son, Paul, were asked to provide DNA samples and soon, the family received the news they'd waited so long to hear.
Junior Gowey’s body had been identified.
“Earlier this month, we met at the Cascade Grill restaurant with three officers from the Navy,” Workinger said. “They were in dress uniforms and gave us a very nice presentation. We decided to bury Junior in the spring at Arlington National Cemetery. We hope to do it when the cherry blossoms are blooming.”
Workinger was the youngest of seven children, and Junior, she said, was her closest sibling, four years older. The family lived and worked on a farm south of the small town of Onawa, Iowa.
“But somehow, our parents took a vacation every year, even during the Depression and they would take two of us kids each time,” Workinger said. “They took me and Junior on their vacation to Oregon, loved the area and we moved to a farm between Tangent and Shedd in 1936.”
Workinger said Junior loved to tease her.
“One time, we went horseback riding, but he and his friend rode horses and they put me on a mule,” she said. “They knew the mule would stop in the alfalfa field to eat and they left me. They were laughing as they rode off.”
Junior Gowey quit high school and had to get his parents’ permission to join the Navy in 1939. He took his physical in Portland on Dec. 12 and passed with flying colors, although he checked a box that indicated he wore eyeglasses.
“I never remember him wearing glasses,” his sister said.
As an apprentice seaman, he was going to earn $21 per month.
Workinger said she remembers being sad to see her brother leave home.
“I was a teenager and I missed him,” she said.
After basic training in San Diego, California, Gowey was assigned to the USS Oklahoma on Feb. 24, 1940. The ship traveled to Hawaii in May.
The USS Oklahoma was a Nevada-class battleship that was launched in March 1914 and first saw action during World War I, protecting allied convoys across the Atlantic Ocean.
She underwent remodeling in the late 1920s and was used to rescue American citizens and refugees during the Spanish Civil War. The Oklahoma was 583 feet long, 95 feet wide and had a draft of almost 29 feet. She carried 1,398 total officers and crewmen. She had a top speed of almost 24 mph and a range of 9,200 miles.
“I remember him saying that he loved being in the Navy,” Workinger said.
'It seemed like forever'
Anchored on Battleship Row on Dec. 7, the USS Oklahoma was among nine ships that were sunk and 21 others damaged when Japanese dive-bombers and torpedo planes attacked the island. In all, 2,402 Americans were killed. Of those, 429 were from the Oklahoma.
In the first 10 minutes of the battle, nine torpedoes struck the Oklahoma. Fourteen Marines and 415 sailors died.
At the time of his death, Gowey was a Fireman 1st Class.
“A bunch of us had gone to Newport that Sunday and we didn’t hear about the bombing of Pearl Harbor until we got back to Corvallis later that day,” Workinger said. “I knew my brother was there and I went home immediately.”
Workinger said waiting for news of what had happened to her brother was agonizing. "It seemed like forever," she said.
Finally, on Dec. 20, a telegram arrived for her parents with the news that their son was missing in action. It read in part:
“The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your son, Claude Olliver Gowey, Fireman First Class, U.S.N. is missing following action in the performance of his duty and in the service of his country. The department appreciates your great anxiety and will furnish you further information promptly when received. To prevent possible aid to our enemies please do not divulge the name of his ship or station.” Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation
“My parents loved each other dearly, but they weren’t very demonstrative,” Workinger said. “Mom crawled up on dad’s lap and he put his arm around her. It was a very sad time.”
Slowly, as letters began arriving from the military department, the family accepted the fact that their son and sibling was among those who were killed, even though no positive identification had been made.
Gowey was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the American Defense Service Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
Gowey was among more than 100 sailors whose remains had been buried in a single casket. His identification was based on a skull, arm and leg bones. A Department of Defense report noted that Gowey’s bones were in “good condition.”
Workinger said that when she received the first telephone call from the Department of Defense five years ago about the DNA testing, she “thought it might be a scam.”
“They told us they would be sending us a DNA testing kit,” Workinger said. “I guess I still didn’t believe them for a long time.”
Of 429 killed on the Oklahoma, only 35 men were identified before the DNA testing program. The others were buried in 46 plots at the National Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Hawaii.
Salvaging the battleship began in March 1943 and the ship was decommissioned on Sept. 1, 1944. She was sold to a private company for salvage in 1946 and while being towed to Oakland, California, in May 1947, the Oklahoma sank about 500 miles east of Pearl Harbor.
Today, there is a memorial to the USS Oklahoma and the sailors and Marines who died that day at the National Memorial Cemetery on Ford Island at Pearl Harbor.
“I have been to the memorial at Pearl Harbor and I have seen my brother’s name on the wall," Workinger said. "Now, there is a rosette next to his name, which means his body has been identified.”
Workinger said her brother has never been forgotten. She is proud of the photograph of him that she and all of her siblings had. She is the only living sibling.
In addition to Junior, Workinger’s brother, Leslie also served in the Navy in WWII and came home safely.
Workinger said she is grateful to be able to put her brother to rest. The Navy will cover travel expenses so that Workinger, her son Paul and her daughter Janie Mangus, who lives in California, can attend the service.
“There has always been a big void in our lives,” Workinger said. “Arlington National Cemetery is a grand place. I won’t be here forever.”