Bottineau County sailor killed at Pearl Harbor coming home

Submitted Photo
Navy Fireman 1st Class, who was killed in the attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, has been identified and is being returned to North Dakota for burial.

Submitted Photo Navy Fireman 1st Class, who was killed in the attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, has been identified and is being returned to North Dakota for burial.

WILLOW CITY – The remains of a Bottineau County sailor who was killed nearly 76 years ago during the attack at Pearl Harbor has been identified recently and is coming home to North Dakota for burial near Willow City.

Navy Fireman 1st Class Lawrence H. Fecho will be buried with full military honors during a commital service at the Willow Creek Cemetery of Immanuel Lutheran Church near Willow City on Sunday, Aug. 13, at 1 p.m.

A family service will be held at the Nero Funeral Home in Bottineau on Saturday, Aug. 12, at 7 p.m.

Fecho was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft on Dec. 7, 1941.

The Oklahoma took multiple torpedo hits and capsized quickly. The attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, including Fecho. No single vessel at Pearl Harbor, with the exception of the USS Arizona, suffered as many fatalities, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

The remains of the deceased Navy personnel were recovered from December 1941 to June 1944, and were interred in two cemeteries in Hawaii.

Fecho was the 10th of 12 children of William and Katherine Fecho. The family lived on a farm near Willow City.

“I’m the only one left,” said Betty Fecho Anderson, 90, of Mesa, Ariz. in an interview on July 21. Anderson is the youngest of the family.

Except for Betty Anderson, who was born in Willow City with a mid-wife helping, Lawrence and all the other children in the family were born on the farm with the help of their father bringing them into the world.

Anderson said she doesn’t remember a lot about her brother Lawrence because she went to Willow City to live with her sister.

She remembers the bombing of Pearl Harbor though when she was with a bunch of girls on a Sunday.

She said her family thought Lawrence might not have been killed in the Pearl Harbor attack because a couple days after the attack they received Christmas cards from him. “I remember I cried,” Anderson said.

She said they hoped he might have gone to town to mail the cards and wasn’t on the ship when it was attacked. She said her family was notified a few days later, probably by telegram, that Lawrence had died in the attack.

Lawrence was one of the Andersons’ four brothers who served in the military during World War II.

Leo Fecho was in the Navy and serving overseas when he was honorably discharged due to an illness. Leopold “Sonny” Fecho was killed in Sicily where he is buried. John Fecho served in the Pacific and then returned home.

The loss of the two sons had a major impact on the family.

Anderson said her family used to have dances at their farm or at neighbors’ farms. “My father quit dancing when both (Leopold and Lawrence) got killed,” she said.

Anderson said her father came to the United States from Germany to South Dakota where he met her mother. Her father was 25 and her mother was 15 when they traveled by wagon to settle in North Dakota They were married on the way to North Dakota.

Nearly 70 years ago, in September 1947, members of the American Graves Registration Service disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. The laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identities of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma at that time. The AGRS subsequently buried the unknowns in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl in Honolulu. In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as non-recoverable. They were recently identified as part of a Department of Defense effort in 2015 when the deputy secretary of defense ordered the disinterment of unidentified remains associated with the USS Oklahoma. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began exhuming the remains for analysis in June 2015.

DNA analysis and circumstantial evidence were used to identify Fecho’s remains.

Anderson, who has been in contact with the Defense agency personnel for some time, said she provided the DNA used to identify her brother.

In February she attended a meeting in Mesa with many family members of those who have not been identified. A week or two later she said she received a call and was told her brother had been identified.

Anderson and a number of relatives, including about 25 nieces and nephews, will be attending the services for Lawrence Fecho. She said her brother was baptized and confirmed at the Lutheran church near Willow City. She said he will be laid to rest in the same cemetery where his parents and other family members are buried, she said.

“We waited a long time,” Anderson said.