Pearl Harbor sailor’s remains are identified


The remains of a World War II sailor who was killed at Pearl Harbor and has ties to the village of Greenfield were recently identified. The commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars District 12 told The Times-Gazette he’s hoping a local funeral home with a heart for veterans, or some local veterans organizations, will step forward to underwrite the cost of bringing his remains home for burial with the rest of his family in the Greenfield Cemetery.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced on Sept. 11 that Navy Musician 1st Class Joseph W. Hoffman was accounted for on Sept. 8, 2020, nearly 79 years after that fateful Sunday morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

Lt. Col. Robert Leach (U.S. Army/Ret.), who is also the chaplain of the Ross County Honor Guard, said that an individual had identified themselves as a family relative, but hasn’t yet agreed to officially take on the responsibility for the burial, and that the Navy wouldn’t release the name of the person.

“If the burial is done in a national cemetery, it’s at no cost to the family,” he said.

If burial were to take place at Greenfield, he said, there would be costs involved.

He said the Navy was in the beginning stages of arranging a meeting with a family member to arrange for his final interment, adding that at the present there is a memorial stone to him in the family plot at the Greenfield Cemetery.

“Hoffman was born on Sept. 6, 1917 in Lyndon, which is on the Ross County side,” Leach said. “But, that’s one of those places that has the ‘identity crisis’ of feeling like they’re more part of Greenfield than they are of Chillicothe.”

Leach said his parents were from the Greenfield area and Hoffman was one of three children born to them, with Hoffman’s older brother Victor being born two years earlier.

“In 1919, they had a daughter, Ada, who died when she was e days old,” Leach said. “And when that happened they bought a family plot in Greenfield Cemetery.”

In 1927, the family moved to 304 Park St. in Chillicothe, and Hoffman took a job as a paper carrier for the News-Advertiser, later getting a job with Sulzbacher & Erdmann Pharmacy. He played the baritone in the Chillicothe High School band before graduating in 1936.

He enlisted in the U.S. Navy the following year, achieving the rank of Musician 1st Class in the band assigned to the USS Oklahoma.

“From the accounts that I’ve read, the band members of the USS Oklahoma, like the other ships, had assembled that morning to play the national anthem as the colors were raised,” he said, “and that’s when the attack happened.”

According to Navy reports, the Oklahoma was struck by multiple torpedoes from attacking Japanese aircraft and within minutes, began to capsize, with the captain ordering the crew to abandon ship over the starboard side.

Those who escaped swam to the battleship USS Maryland, or manned smaller launches to help pull the wounded out of the water.

A total of 32 sailors were saved when rescuers cut holes into the Oklahoma’s hull, but 429 others perished, including Hoffman.

“They eventually recovered most of the bodies, but with 1940s technology, they couldn’t identify them, so they were buried in the mass graves at the military cemetery in Hawaii,” Leach said.

According to what was then known as the War Department, Hoffman was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously.

After the war, in September of 1947, the American Graves Registration Service was tasked to identify unknown soldier’s remains from the Pacific Theatre, but were only able to identify 35 of the crewmen from Hoffman’s ship. Two years later, the agency ruled Hoffman, along with many other soldiers and sailors whose remains were not identified, as being unrecoverable.

It was at that time that the American Legion Post on Cooks Hill Road south of Chillicothe came into being, and was named the Joseph W. Hoffman American Legion Post 757 in his honor.

“Fast forward to 2015, and we have the Department of Defense POW/MIA accounting agency realizing that those mass graves were on the Oklahoma, and we have the roster of who was on it,” he said. “And with the DNA technology, there were over 400 unidentified remains and they’re through well-over 200 now, and Hoffman was in the second half.”

Leach said DNA identification was made more difficult due to the fact that Hoffman had no close family still alive and wasn’t married at the time of his death.

Hoffman’s father, Joseph, died in 1968 while his mother, Donna, died shortly after the war in 1948. His older brother, Victor, passed away in 1983 and didn’t have any children.

“When it came to DNA samples, scientists had to rely on Joseph and Donna’s brothers and sisters to do the comparisons,” he said.

He said that Hoffman had always been considered the first Ross County casualty of World War II, even though he was one of three from Chillicothe who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor.

“There was another man that was on the same ship he was on,” he said, “and another was on the USS Arizona, but the Hoffman family received the telegram first from the War Department.”

Whenever Hoffman’s remains are interred, Leach said that Chillicothe Mayor Luke Feeney wrote a letter to the Navy, asking them to forward it to the relatives, hoping they would consider having the funeral procession come through Chillicothe if the remains were to be taken to Greenfield Cemetery.

Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.

Musician 1st Class Joseph W. Hoffman is pictured during World War II. 1st Class Joseph W. Hoffman is pictured during World War II. Courtesy photo
Hoffman has memorial stone in Greenfield Cemetery

By Tim Colliver

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