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By Echo Menges
After being Missing In Action (MIA) for 80 years, United States Navy Sailor Robert Joseph Harr, Navy Fireman 1st Class, was laid to rest at the Paulene Cemetery in Rutledge, MO, beside his mother Bertha, father Joseph and brother Roger on Saturday, August 14, 2021.
Harr’s close and extended relatives, along with local community members, gathered at the cemetery for the occasion. The weather was pleasant, only reaching about 80 degrees, and the greenery of the summer season made for a picturesque event.
Harr left his home in Dallas City, IA, to join the Navy. At age 25, he was killed on the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. His parents relocated a few years later and lived out their lives in Rutledge, which is how he came to be buried there.
The tiny town of Rutledge, with a population of approximately 109, was the backdrop of the funeral procession, which was led by the Patriot Guard Riders from the Doss Funeral Home in Edina, MO, to the cemetery.
Ahead of the funeral procession, Harrs casket bearers were members of the Patriot Guard Riders. At the gravesite, Harr’s casket bearers were members of the United States Navy.
Harr’s graveside funeral was officiated by Chief Chaplain Mark Hall of Iowa City.
“Joseph, who was nicknamed Buck, was growing up hungry to learn. He graduated high school in Dallas City, IL,” said Chief Chaplain Mark Hall. “As a teenager he would have worked hard at the part-time jobs that he could find. He would purchase clothing for himself, and also for his brothers and sisters. Joining the U.S. Navy on April 1, 1940, Buck became a Fireman First Class. One day while sleeping in his bunk on December 7, 194, his ship, the Battleship USS Oklahoma was attacked by the Japanese Navy and hit by six torpedoes. The Oklahoma capsized and sank quickly into the sea. There was a huge loss of life, 429 Sailors died within minutes of the sinking. Some were rescued. There were 32 sailors that were blowtorched out of the hull by aggressive and talented Machinist Mates and Dock Workers. Several sailors were rescued from the oil covered and burning water. Fireman Robert Joseph Harr, age 25, did not survive that attack. Now, 80 years later we lay to rest the human remains of this Sailor. His soul long ago crossed over the sea to a land we call paradise or heaven. Being buried next to his parents and brother and sister. There are not very many family members left who are living. Like so many casualties of that battle, there were no spouses or children to grieve for him. These soldiers were very, very young. At that time, the Soldiers’ brothers and sisters, and parents, and community grieved for many years for Robert Joseph Harr. Most of those Sailors were listed as Killed In Action and buried all together at the Hawaiian National Cemetery.”
Harr was buried with full military honors presented by the United States Navy, the Knox County Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 4822, and the Cyril A. Graham American Legion Post No. 261. Following the rifle salute, Debbie Peters of Edina played TAPPS on the trumpet.
The flag draped over Harr’s casket was presented to his sister-in-law Bonnie Harr, 89, of Okuawka, IL. She was seated beside her son, Robert Harr, who is named after the returned Soldier, and her nephew Glen Smith.
Following the funeral, a meal was hosted for those in attendance at the Rutledge Community Center. Harr’s funeral arrangements were handled by the Doss Funeral Home.
Several family members traveled from Iowa and Illinois to be at the funeral.
In 2015, Harr’s cousin LeeAnn Schreiner was contacted by the Navy through Ancestry.com about the remains. Schreiner contacted Knox County Genealogist and Historian Vada Grainger for help finding other relatives to help identify Harr’s remains through DNA testing.
Grainger was able to locate Harr’s relatives and put them in contact with each other.
In order to identify Harr, DNA from Schreiner, Robert Harr and Glenn Harr was collected and compared to Harr’s remains, which made it possible for him to be identified and finally be laid to rest with his family after eight decades of being listed as MIA.