HARVARD — After almost 80 years and 3,700 miles of separation, a fallen U.S. Navy sailor from Harvard was delivered home to his final resting place during a graveside ceremony at Harvard Cemetery Saturday morning.
The recently identified remains of Charles “Alan” Jones, who died at age 21, were relocated Saturday after being positively identified from one of 46 burial plots containing the remains of nearly 400 “Unknowns” killed on the USS Oklahoma battleship during the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Using anthropological and DNA evidence, more than 100 of the ship’s casualties have been identified since 2017 through a special joint project teaming the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
A full military burial including rifle volleys and taps was carried out before a public ceremony attended by more than 150 people, including four generations of Jones’ family members.
A serenade of bird songs pierced the solemn silence afforded out of respect for Jones by those in attendance during the ceremony. In the quietness of the moment, it wasn’t difficult to envision the red glare of rockets and bombs bursting in air during the attack, eight of which devastated the ship and its ill-fated crew.
Jones’ niece, Janice (Yost) Domeier of Hastings, and nephew, Robert “Bob” Stett of Harvard, are first-generation collateral descendants, though neither had yet been born at the time of his death.
Domeier accepted the casket flag on behalf of the family and later introduced family members to attendees at a reception in the Harvard Community Room.
“It was beautiful,” Domeier said following the graveside service. “I think we’re still a little stunned. We’re blessed that we get to bring him home where he belongs, with his family and the townspeople and everybody that has rallied around this.
“It’s just been awesome. He got the respect he needed, and he deserved it. He’s our family hero.”
Stett, whose middle name is Alan after his uncle, was visibly moved by the ceremony, which included an escort to the cemetery by Harvard police and fire personnel.
“The turnout was unbelievable,” Stett said. “We’re just glad he’s home with the rest of his family. Now he can rest in peace.”
Attendees lingered briefly at the cemetery to exchange greetings before moving to the reception at the community center.
Dallas Doupnik of Harvard was among village members to pay his respects at the service. Having served in the National Guard, he felt especially called to acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice made by a fellow service member.
“His coming home 60-70 years later is quite an achievement, even after life,” he said. “Hopefully he’ll be remembered here for a long time.”
Mari Hamburger is a 15-year member of VFW Auxiliary No. 5539 in Harvard. Both the Auxiliary and Post are named for Jones. Her father, Glenn Hamburger, served in Europe during World War II.
“We’re all family here,” she said. “His (Jones’) sisters, Faye and Frannie, were both members of our VFW Auxiliary. I commend the military for staying at it and bringing these guys home where they properly belong. We’re honored.”
Paul Sedersten is a relative of Stett’s through marriage. He said both the service and decorated headstone were honorable tributes to Jones.
“It was all very well done, very professional,” he said. “That was very special to the whole community that he was brought home.”
Navy Cmdr. Christopher Volnek, who served as officer in charge of the service, is executive officer at the Navy Operational Support Center at Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha.
“It was a super great honor to be part of this,” he said. “I’d been coordinating with Janice for several months getting this set up and ready to go.
“Since he (Jones) is the namesake of the VFW here, I imagine it means as much to the entire community as it does to the family being able to put him to rest. A lot of people use the cliché that they’re willing to lay their life down for their country they love. Alan Jones got the chance to do that.”
The successes and failures of high school may soon be forgotten, but the lessons learned and relationships made during those four years will last forever.
That was a theme that ran throughout the speeches from each of the six valedictorians who spoke at the Hastings High School commencement ceremony on Sunday afternoon.
Valedictorians Courtney Beave, Alexandra Curtis, Andrew Le, Christine Phuong, Alice Vu and Anna Wibbels were among the 255 graduating members of the Hastings High Class of 2021.
Student Council President Ashlee Long provided the welcome.
“As much as we would all like to think so, high school is not the end-all, be-all of our lives,” Beave said. “In the grand scheme of things no one is going to care in 10 years if we were valedictorian, in the top 10% of our high school class or what colleges we got into. People are going to care what we did when we were finally free to make our own life decisions without the boundaries of living in Hastings, Nebraska; whether that is joining the military, going to a community college, a state college or a school five hours away from here.”
Each of the speakers thanked their fellow classmates, family members, faculty and staff, and administrators for helping the Class of 2021 get to graduation, especially in light of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19 pandemic, which ended in-person instruction for the 2019-20 school year early.
“One positive is that we had the longest summer break ever,” Curtis said.
She said there was not just one experience or one person who helped the graduates to this point, but instead more of a general theme.
“It is kindness that made this day happen,” she said. “All of the people who have been our greatest allies and staunchest supporters simply took the time to care and were just kind to us. The best teachers we had at Hastings High taught with compassion and a desire to set us up for future success.”
The best coaches she had cared for her as a person and not just as a player on the team.
“In short, the people who impacted us the most throughout our lives or here at Hastings High are those who acted with kindness,” Curtis said. “There is no way any of us would be here without the support of our classmates, our friends, our family, as well as administration, teachers and our coaches.”
Le said while he and his classmates have been focused for the last four years, with Sunday’s ceremony as a goal, there is a lesson many high school students forget.
“That’s the idea that you are more than a score,” he said. “You’re more than a test score, a class score, an ACT score; you’re more than a scholarship, or the college you’re going to or the titles you receive. A number will never be able to represent you as a person.”
At the end of the day, the people who are really there for you will know this too, he said.
“This graduation ceremony does not mark the end of our long careers, but the start of us experiencing new opportunities that will shape us as the next generation of leaders,” Phuong said.
Vu said the past four years went too quickly.
“Regardless of how fast these past four years seemed to go by, I think it’s safe to say I’m ready to say my goodbyes,” she said. “Goodbyes to the long nights staying up and studying and turning in assignments at exactly 11:59 p.m. when they were due at midnight. Goodbye to the unnecessary stress and anxiety I get before every test and quiz.”
She thanked Hastings High School for making her into the hardworking person she is today.
Wibbels said she spent the last four years coming to high school every day and complaining.
“Now I’m finding myself dreading having to leave,” she said. “Looking back, the late nights spent finishing essays or cramming for tests were not enjoyable in the slightest, but they were accompanied by bonding with my classmates over the heavy workload and our terrible procrastination habits.”
She said she laughed a lot during high school.
“I would pay some good money for a rewind tape of all the funniest moments of my time in this school,” she said. “The classes that challenged you and made you want to cry taught you more about not only physics and calculus but also yourself than anything else.”
High school will be the most influential years she and her classmates will ever experience, Wibbels said.
She said tomorrow will worry about itself.
“You can’t speed up or slow down time,” she said. “You just have to enjoy where you are right now and look for the silver lining in everything.”
Wibbels then continued the Hastings High tradition of taking a selfie with her classmates.
After so many unknowns with the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, Hastings College found whatever way possible to have a graduation in 2021.
With masks in place for the school year and adjusting accordingly, HC was able to have its annual graduation Saturday at Lynn Farrell Arena. Two hundred fifteen undergraduate students received their bachelor’s degrees, and 13 students were awarded their master of arts in teaching degrees.
Barbara Sunderman, HC vice president for academic affairs, said the college was able to make it through the year without major problems.
“We have been so fortunate at Hastings College, she said. “We set a standard for taking care of each other — taking care of each other as a community. And the students rose to that occasion that allowed for this day to happen.”
Under all the masks, one assumes, smiles were aplenty. Each of these students went through a school year unlike any other, and Sunderman was excited to see the looks on all of the graduates’ faces.
“They absolutely deserved to have a special day,” she said. “We were more than excited to provide it. There was so much enthusiasm and so many people that are ready to go conquer the world, and we got to be a part of that today. We’re just very blessed.”
Over the last 15 months and especially last summer, HC was developing plans on how to keep its students and faculty safe and to have in-person classes this year.
“There were a lot of dedicated people who worked all last summer to put together in the changing moments what we were going to do to keep each other safe,” Sunderman said. “We have socially distanced. We have worn masks on campus. We have kept kids in small circles of people that they could hang out with and the students put each other first and it made all of that happen.
“We have had some visitors on campus that said wow, these kids are doing better than any other group that I have ever seen and we have not had any large outbreaks and I think it’s because the students have wanted to stay here. They wanted to be in-person, so we serve the students and we worked to serve the students all year. And this is just a culminating, wonderful day to see it. In fact, this is the first time that we had so many faculty together in a room for over a year. It was such a great day to see people gathered for such joy.”
The 228 students who graduated from HC in 2021 will make an impact in their local communities. Wyatt Heikkinen, a history major from Lawrence, was excited to earn the degree has worked so hard for.
“It was definitely a mix of emotions. We have been going through this process over the last few years,” he said. “I have made so many great friends, great memories. It’s kind of sad that I get to leave that behind but I’m excited for the future.”
Heikkinen was pleased that they were able to get through the school year without major problems.
“It has been really nice,” he said. “In-person classes have been great. In-person classes last year was really tough overall, but able to come back this past fall and being with those teachers and with all of our friends, it was a nice change of pace from last spring. Now being here at graduation with my family being able to come is a great feeling.”
KENESAW — Saturday’s graduation ceremony at Kenesaw High School marked the culmination of the childhood journey of a tight-knit group of seniors before life starts pulling them in different directions.
The valedictorian and salutatorian speeches included inside jokes between the students. The senior video featured a plethora of photos taken through the years as the graduates grew up together, documented at sporting events, in classrooms, on field trips and elsewhere.
Kaylee Larson recognized the 17 seniors in the Class of 2021 as friends in her salutatorian address.
“We stuck together through it all,” she said. “Unity is what makes us strong.”
Larson shared insight from a poem, “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” She said lessons like “Share everything,” “Don’t hit people,” and “Don’t take things that aren’t yours” sum up the students’ current expectations in society.
She also thanked her family and the families of her fellow students.
“To our families: Your love and support made all the difference,” she said.
Deric Goldenstein gave the valedictorian address. He said their junior year was difficult as the novel coronavirus pandemic began and cut the year short. Going into their senior year, he wasn’t sure he even would be in school.
“I never thought I would say this, but I’m thankful we got to stay in school all year long,” he said.
Goldenstein said success is in doing the hard work and encouraged his classmates to continue working to achieve their goals.
“Class of 2021, go grow your minds, your bodies and your wallets,” he said. “I wish you all the best.”
Superintendent Rick Masters welcomed the audience and praised the talents and leadership of the graduating class.
“They have certainly set the bar high for future Blue Devils,” he said.
Masters encouraged the seniors to persevere in the face of any adversity as they venture out in to the world because failures lead to success.
“Get up one more time when you are knocked down, and eventually you will be on top,” he said.