WINTERS, Texas — Hundreds of West Texans crowded the streets of Ballinger and Winters to welcome home a World War II sailor who died in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
There are few people left in the world who met Hale McKissack, but you would have never guessed that was the case, simply by the amount of people standing on the streets with their hands over their hearts to honor him as his hearse drove by.
He was one of more than 420 people killed on the U.S.S. Oklahoma, sitting in Battleship Row on Pearl Harbor, that day.
McKissack's niece, Geneane Bridger, was 10 years old when he died and said she remembers her uncle as "a fun person." She said he had served in World War I and got out of the service, but quickly wanted to rejoin months later.
Bridger said his mother loved him very much and did not want him to serve again. The Navy also told him he was too old to rejoin, however, McKissack said he felt like he had six good years left in him to serve our country. The Navy eventually let him rejoin and his first day back in the service, he was killed in the Pearl Harbor attacks.
The sailor lived in Runnels County with his family before he joined the service. McKissack's great niece and genealogist, Diane Ferguson, said her uncle was the first WWII death from Runnels County. She said the Navy found out years later that the Oklahoma had been torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. It took them years to recover all the remains and bodies killed in the Harbor.
McKissack's distant cousin, Weldon Laird, was seven years old when he died. He says he remembers working in a field with his dad when his uncle came down to tell them about the attacks. Laird said that McKissack had a family member serving on the U.S.S Lexington that had shipped out of the Harbor the day before the attacks.
Ferguson said that about four years after the attack, the Navy had identified remains as "Hale McKissack". They contacted his mother, but she turned down the identification because there was no DNA evidence at that time. So, the seaman was listed as "unidentified" by the U.S. Navy and buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii, for more than 75 years.
In July 2018, Ferguson was contacted by the Navy asking for the oldest living relative of McKissack. They had DNA evidence to confirm his identification connected to remains that were found years ago. On May 4, 2019, McKissack was officially laid to rest next to his family in Fairview Cemetery in Winters.