Above, Aviation Machinist’s Mate Second Class Durell Wade, 24, perished when Japan attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. His ship, the USS Oklahoma is shown capsized in the foreground. Behind her, the USS Maryland, and USS West Virginia burn.
November 2018 – It’s been almost 15 years now, but I still remember it like yesterday. Never before had I experienced such anticipation and excitement. Silently gazing out the bus window at familiar scenery, I realized that all looked brand new. There would be few days in my life as memorable as this one. The day was so special, in fact, that our buses were escorted over 100 miles by the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
After what felt like days of travel, our hometown was finally in view. High above, a huge American flag stretched from one side of the road to the other. As we approached the small town square, I was overwhelmed by the sight. I had never seen such a crowd gathered there. There were signs, people cheering, flags waving, and even some saluting as we passed by. The buses barely had room to park when we arrived.
As we stepped off the bus, our families and friends were waiting anxiously to greet us. Few times in my life have I ever felt that special. We weren’t expecting to be honored or to be treated like a big deal, but it actually was a big deal. We were soldiers returning home. It had been over 14 months since our departure, and we were finally home. What an unbelievable homecoming it was as everyone in attendance supported us, felt united, and shared the same pride in our country.
Another soldier, another time
In a few short weeks, another soldier will travel a similar route around the same hometown square. Sadly, he’ll not feel the excitement nor receive the honor he deserves. Even though he is a true hero, and he paid the ultimate price for our country, it’s likely there won’t be a large crowd cheering wildly and happily waving signs in his honor. His parents, who faithfully awaited his return for years, won’t even be there. In fact, very few may even take time to support him or realize what a historical event his homecoming will be.
Durell Wade was born May 27, 1917, and grew up near Calhoun City, Mississippi. He graduated from Bennett Academy, and soon after enlisted in the Navy where he was assigned to the USS Oklahoma stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He loved the Navy and had just reenlisted for an additional four years.
When the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941, the unforgettable morning that changed the world, his ship was hit first and hardest by numerous torpedoes. It was the only ship to capsize. Some crew members were able to escape. Unfortunately he was not.
Of the 429 casualties aboard the Oklahoma, only 35 were initially identified. His family was first notified that he was missing, then that he survived, then eventually that he was one of the lost. Earlier this year, his remains were recovered, and he was officially identified.
On December 7, 2018, Aviation Machinist’s Mate Second Class Durell Wade will make the long journey home to Calhoun City, then finally rest at the Veterans’ Cemetery in nearby Kilmichael. His last living sibling, Nancy Jaffe, who vividly remembers his send off to the Navy, will be the last remaining member of his immediate family there to welcome him home.
What an honor it will be for my wife, me, and our four sons to salute this hero as he returns to our little town square 77 years later on “the date that continues to live in infamy.”
Matthew White, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Webster County, Mississippi, served in the Army National Guard in Iraq during the Global War on Terrorism. He received the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.