PEARL HARBOR: Navy veteran died on board U.S.S. Oklahoma

Published 8:26 pm Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Dec. 7, 2016, will mark 75 years since the sneak Japanese attack on our Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor. It was a tragic day in the annals of history for the loss of life suffered and the extensive damage to our fleet during the attack. The unsuspecting military and civilian personnel were taken by surprise at about 7:53 a.m. on a quiet Sunday morning along Battleship Row. Wave after wave of Japanese aircraft from nearby carriers strafed and bombed the stationary ships at Pearl Harbor and  aircraft at surrounding airfields.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his address to a Joint Session of Congress on Dec. 8, 1941, remarked Dec. 7, 1941, was “a date which will live in infamy.” It has certainly lived up to that assessment by Roosevelt.

As a brief refresher of the loss of life and devastation, the following summary is offered. According to the National Park Service numbers, (figures still vary slightly) a total of 2,388 Americans lost their lives that day. There were 1,998 Navy personnel, 109 Marines, 233 Army and 48 civilian casualties. The wounded during the attack accounted for another 1178.

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The loss of life was tragic and the damage to the fleet was devastating. There were four battleships sunk, and four others heavily damaged. There were also other ships damaged or sunk including  three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship and a minelayer.  In addition to the ships, 164 aircraft were destroyed and another 159 damaged.

It was a devastating day for the Pacific Fleet as well as the United States of America. This dastardly attack plunged the United States head first into World War II.

One of the battleships sunk was the U.S.S. Oklahoma (BB-37).

On board the Oklahoma was a Navy veteran of 18 years from the sleepy little community of Myrtlewood in Marengo County.

Water Tender 1st Class (WT1C) Walter H. Sollie was one of 429 casualties aboard the Oklahoma.

He grew up in Myrtlewood under parents Frederick Ernest and Florence Vallie McCrary Sollie as their first born.

The Sollie’s were blessed with six children, Walter H., Ernest M., Nina Mae Sollie Cobb, Harris T., Raymond M, and  Fred E., all now deceased.

Grandfathers Frederick E. Sollie and Budd McCrary also lived in the Myrtlewood area and were Civil War Veterans. The family lived in the Myrtlewood and Campground area until the late 20s when they moved to Atmore.

WT1C Sollie was born Nov. 23, 1904, and joined the Navy June 7, 1923, at the tender age of 18.

He had tours of duty on the U.S.S. Huron and the U.S.S. North Hampton before being assigned to the U.S.S. Oklahoma.

In 1935, Sollie married, but the marriage dissolved some years later after their 2-year-old son died. At the time of the attack, he was engaged to a lady in waiting in San Diego, California..

On the morning of the attack, Sollie was on duty in the No. 4  Fire Room and was due to be relieved at 8 a.m.

His brother Fred was also at Pearl Harbor serving on a smaller ship, the U.S.S. Schley, and saw the Oklahoma explode, burn and turn over. The brothers were planning on going to a movie that same Sunday afternoon together.

According to the Defense Department, 35 members of the Oklahoma were identified and buried in the years after the attack.

By 1950, the remaining  unidentified members were buried as unknowns at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

Last year on April 14, 2015, the Defense Department announced they would exhume those buried as unknowns from the Oklahoma in an attempt to identify the remains.

They lifted 61 rusty caskets from 45 graves with what is believed to be the remaining 388 in the operation.

Close relatives of the deceased were asked to give DNA samples for the tedious process of identifying the remains.

On Aug. 18, 2016, Mrs. Iris Sollie Plowman, niece of Walter H. Sollie, and other members of the family were notified a positive identification had been made.

The family then began talks with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) for the transfer of remains to the family. It has been a long and exhaustive process for the family of WT1C Walter H. Sollie.

However, they are appreciative for the efforts made on their behalf and the diligence of the DPAA. They met again Dec. 6 with representatives of the DPAA to finalize the plans of transfer.

As it stands right now, on Jan. 6, 2017, the remains will be flown to the Pensacola Naval Air Station to be interred at the Barrancas National Cemetery.

The family chose Pensacola because Iris Plowman’s father and mother, Fred and Rebie Sollie, are interred there. Fred, a career Navy veteran, witnessed the Oklahoma under attack. Iris Plowman’s grandson, Hunter Price, active duty Coast Guardsman serving on Lake Michigan, will be flown out to escort the remains to Pensacola.

This is a story of heartbreak, perseverance, determination, patience and patriotism above and beyond the call of duty.

The families perseverance in identifying and bring Sollie home paid off.

It is a lesson for all to be reminded, “freedom isn’t free,” there is a price to be paid.

Men like WT1C Walter H. Sollie have paid that price with their lives, and his family has paid too in tears and suffering over the loss of a loved one. Home at last fellow patriot, R.I.P.