Missing sailor's remains identified after 80 years: Carter County's first WWII casualty went down with the USS Oklahoma

Drew Butler
The Daily Ardmoreite
Navy Seaman 1st Class Billy Turner was serving on the USS Oklahoma when Pearl Harbor was attacked and became the first casualty of World War II from Carter County at the age of 19. Earlier this month the DPAA announced that Turner's remains have been officially identified after almost 80 years of being listed as missing in action.

On Dec. 7, 1941 the United States was thrown into World War II after a surprise attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. A total of 2,403 Americans lost their lives, and an additional 1,143 were wounded. Among the casualties was 19-year-old Carter County resident Seaman 1st Class Billy Turner who was serving aboard the USS Oklahoma. A reported 429  of the crew aboard the Oklahoma that fateful morning were killed or listed as missing, and for almost 80 years Turner was among the missing — until earlier this month. 

According to a press release from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), Turner was officially accounted for on Friday, Oct. 1. His remains, along with the remains of others who were not yet identified, were buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. In 2015 the DPAA received authorization to exhume the remains associated with the Oklahoma for reexamination using modern forensic technology. Through laboratory analysis and the circumstantial evidence available, one set of these remains has been identified as Turner's.

Adm. Wesley Hull said Turner was the first World War II casualty from Carter County, and he shared a bit of Turner's story.

"Billy Turner was born on Nov. 18, 1922 in Memphis, Tenn. and moved to Ardmore in 1926," Hull said. "He was inducted into the US Navy in Oklahoma City on Jan. 4, 1940 and was sent to San Diego for training. On Dec. 7, 1941 was aboard the USS Oklahoma during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor."

Hull said he is unaware of any relatives of Turner still living in the area. He located one of Turner's family members a few years ago, but the family member later moved to Western Oklahoma. The man was also a World War II veteran, and Hull believes he has since passed away.

Turner's legacy continues to live on in Ardmore. Turner Street is named after the young man, and the mural adorning The Ardmoreite building depicts the USS Oklahoma in his honor. Turner also holds an honored position inside the Greater Southwestern Historical Museum.

Hull said he is glad to know that Turner's remains have at long last been identified, but he wishes more people in the area knew about the young seaman's story.

"It's wonderful that after all of these year's they have finally been able to identify his body," Hull said. "It's a shame that very few people in Ardmore are aware of Billy Turner and the ultimate sacrifice he made."