Bessemer native who died at Pearl Harbor buried after identification
HONOLULU - U.S. Navy Ensign William M. Finnegan, a Bessemer native who died in the attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, was finally laid to rest on Sept. 7 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
He was among the 429 sailors aboard the USS Oklahoma who were killed that day, but also among the 388 of those who were left unaccounted for, according to a release from the Bureau of Navy Personnel.
The remains of the 388 unidentified personnel were first interred as "unknowns" in two cemeteries. All were disinterred in 1947, in an unsuccessful attempt to identify more personnel, according to the release, and were buried again in 1950 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as Punchbowl.
In April 2015, the Department of Defense said the unidentified remains would be exhumed for DNA analysis by scientists with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency with the goal of returning identified remains to their families. Advances in forensic techniques prompted the reexamination.
A long process of analyzing the remains and then gathering DNA samples from family members began.
To date, all but 32 have been identified, said a spokesman with Navy Personnel Command.
Once an identification is made, the Navy Casualty Office, located at Navy Personnel Command in Millington, Tennessee, takes control of the process, notifying and visiting with the families, coordinating the return of their loved ones and providing escorts and honors details for the reinternments.
Finnegan was accounted for in April 2016, according to a December 2018 release from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. After that, the spokesman said, COVID slowed the visiting with families and making plans for burials.
The spokesman said Finnegan's family chose not to talk to the media, but the Navy did provide photos and a brief video of the burial service held on a sunny September day in the National Cemetery in Honolulu, led by U.S. Navy Chaplain, Lt. A.J. Striffler.
Finnegan's remains were presented in a small box marked with his name and the seal of the U.S. Navy. An honor guard folded the American flag as others saluted, and another set of sailors honored Finnegan with a volley from their rifles.
The chaplain said Finnegan was married to Edith and they had four sons, Michael, William, David and Steven, as well as a daughter, Mary; adding it was an honor to have Steven at the service.
William Michael Finnegan was born April 18, 1897, in Bessemer. At age 20, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in Chicago on Oct. 22, 1917, beginning a 24-year-plus career in the Navy.
He was 44 years old when he died, and just weeks before had become an officer. He was appointed ensign on Nov. 18, 1941, after rising to chief radio electrician.
Ensign is the junior commissioned officer rank in the Navy and at the time they were charge with overseeing the work of a crew of seamen and petty officers in a specific division. As a chief radio electrician, Finnegan was required to have qualified for the ratings of radioman, aviation radioman, radio technician, radarman, and soundman, operating special detection equipment and interpreting sound characteristics of echoes.
Finnegan began his Naval career at Recruit Training, Great Lakes, Illinois, and moved on to radio school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before being assigned to the New York Navy Yard.
His assignments varied from ashore and afloat, moving from the destroyer USS Farquhar, to the 15th Naval District Headquarters in the Panama Canal Zone, to the aircraft carrier USS Ranger, to the Naval Air Station in San Diego, before a series of battleships, including the USS Tennessee, Nevada and Oklahoma.
Finnegan was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.
He also earned the Combat Action Ribbon, two Good Conduct Medals, the American Defense Service Medal (Fleet Clasp), Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (Bronze Star), World War II Victory Medal and American Campaign Medal.
Finnegan was later honored when the Navy named a new destroyer escort after him. The USS Finnegan was launched Feb. 6, 1944, in Mare Island, California. Its crew sank a Japanese submarine 120 miles south of Iwo Jima in February 1945 and the ship received three battle stars for its World War II service. It was decommissioned after the war and sold for scrap in 1946.
There is very little mention of Finnegan in the Daily Globe. A five-paragraph story on May 5, 1942, tells of the Navy Department's first list of casualties from the war, from Dec. 7, 1941, to April 15, 1942, particularly those from the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin. Finnegan's next of kin is listed as Mrs. William Finnegan of Dollar Bay.
Other locals in that early list of war dead include Francis A. Cychosz, seaman first class, of Bessemer; Lowell E. Valley, fireman second class, of Ontonagon; and Adam Voitkielevicz, apprentice seaman, of Montreal, Wisconsin.
A Feb. 7, 1944, Daily Globe article about the launching of the USS Finnegan gives Finnegan's Bessemer birthdate and then says he went with his parents to Waukegan, Illinois, "where he was reared." The short story on the new ship also mentions that his widow is still in Dollar Bay and his sister, Mrs. Charles Schroeder, was present at the launching as the ship's sponsor.
According to Findagrave.com, Mrs. Charles Schroeder (1902-1978) turns out to be the former Helen Finnegan and William Finnegan's youngest sister. They are two of Michael and Alvina Finnegan's five children. Michael was born in 1866 in Hurontown near Houghton and died in 1930 in Dollar Bay. There's a paragraph on his death in the Daily Globe that mentions he had been a member of the fire department in Bessemer. Alvina dies in 1952 while living with her daughter, Helen, in Waukegon.
Finnegan's other siblings are born in the Copper Country. Herbert dies in 1969 in Arizona. Fred dies in 1971 in New Mexico, and Margaret dies in 1962 in Iowa.
Finnegan's grandfather, also named Michael Finnegan, was born in 1819 in Ireland, and came to America 1846, with his wife, Margaret, and their first child, Mary. They settled in the Copper Country and six more children were born including, Michael -William's father, according to a family history posted on Findagrave. The piece also mentions the elder Michael was a friend of Bishop Baraga. The elder Michael dies in 1897, the year William is born, and his obituary, also on Findagrave.com, says his son Michael, William's father, is living in Bessemer.
Another of the elder Michael's sons, Jeremiah, becomes "a prominent Houghton attorney," according to a Daily Globe story about his death in 1929.
Daily Globe reports
There is a Finnegan family living in Gogebic County in the 1930s, 40s and into the 50s, but it's unclear how they're directly related to the Finnegan who died at Pearl Harbor.
The Daily Globe's story about the launching of the USS Finnegan, mentions Finnegan is a cousin of John Finnegan of Bessemer. He was one of four children of John F. Finnegan, also including Jerry of Presque Isle, Miles of Wakefield and Margaret Ferguson of Bergland. John F. Finnegan was on the county board in the 1920s, but it's unclear how he was related to the parents of William Finnegan.
There are a couple of other folks of note that come through the pages of the Daily Globe that are somehow related to the Gogebic County Finnegans, including Judge Philip Finnegan of Chicago who ends up on the U.S. Court of Appeals. He died is 1959. There's also the judge's brother, Richard J. Finnegan, who was a newspaper editor in Chicago with what became the Chicago Sun-Times. He died in 1955.
The Globe's society pages in the 1930s and 40s are full of short blurbs about who visited whom from out of town, and the Finnegans get their fair share.
The USS Oklahoma was among almost half of the U.S. Pacific Fleet - consisting of 150 vessels - anchored at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base that Sunday morning when the Japanese attacked. Moored in Battleship Row beside the USS Maryland, the Oklahoma was among the first vessels hit.
The ship, under the command of Capt. Howard D. Bode, was supposed to have been out to sea patrolling, but along with the other eight battleships at Pearl Harbor, the Oklahoma crew was advised there was to be an admiral's inspection on Monday, according to the above release.
At approximately 7:55 a.m. the first wave of Japanese aircraft struck the Oklahoma with three aerial torpedoes. Many of the crew were sleeping below decks and never made it up to the main deck.
The Oklahoma began capsizing as the Japanese planes strafed the deck with machine gun fire. After being struck by six more torpedoes, the Oklahoma's port side was torn open and within 15 minutes of the first torpedo strike, it had rolled completely over, trapping those crewmembers not fortunate enough to escape within its hull, said the release.
Amidst the chaos, several sailors displayed great courage, saving the lives of their shipmates at the cost of their own. Among them, Ensign Francis Flaherty and Seaman 1st Class James Ward received the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Men trapped inside started banging on the bulkhead trying to get the attention of passing small boats. On Dec. 8 and 9, after cutting holes in the exposed bottom of the ship, 32 men were pulled out alive. Banging continued through Dec. 10, but nothing could be done. The sound was coming from below the water line and the helpless sailors standing watch over the Oklahoma could only wait and listen until the banging stopped, said the release.
Salvage of the Oklahoma began in March 1943. It was the most difficult and largest of the Pearl Harbor salvage jobs. Preparations for righting the hull took eight months to complete.
Air was pumped into interior chambers and improvised airlocks built into the ship, forcing 20,000 tons of water out of the ship through the torpedo holes. Two barges were posted on either end of the ship to control the ship's rising. Twenty-one derricks were attached to the hull; each with hydraulic winching machines ashore. The operation was completed in June 1943.
Teams of naval specialists then entered the ship to remove any additional human remains, said the release.
The Oklahoma was eventually floated using 20 10,000 gallon-per-minute pumps during an 11-hour period. In December 1943, the Oklahoma was towed into dry dock and repaired enough to make it watertight.
The Oklahoma was decommissioned in September 1944 and sold to Moore Drydock Co. of Oakland, California, for $46,127. In May 1947, two tugs began towing the Oklahoma to California.
On May 17, 1944, the tugs entered a storm more than 500 miles from Hawaii. As the Oklahoma began to sink, it caused water to swamp the sterns of both tugs, so the crews released the ship in tow. The Oklahoma plunged to the bottom of the Pacific at 1:40 a.m. Its exact location is unknown.
The ship's wheel and a section of its deck are now on display at the Oklahoma Historical Society Museum. The anchor is located in downtown Oklahoma City. Inscribed on its base: "Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty."
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. There are 72,771 (approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable) still unaccounted for from World War II, said the release.
Finnegan's name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with the others who are or were missing from World War II. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving their country, visit dpaa.mil.