CEDAR RAPIDS — Nearly 78 years after he was killed in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, William Shanahan Jr.’s remains finally were laid to rest Tuesday in his hometown.
His funeral was held at the same church he was baptized into in 1918 — St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. He was buried next to his parents, William Sr. and Florence Shanahan, at Mount Calvary Cemetery.
The signalman third-class for the U.S. Navy, serving aboard the USS Oklahoma, was classified as missing in action following the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. More than 2,400 service members died in the attack. Shanahan was 23 when killed.
The Navy confirmed July 12 that Shanahan’s remains had been identified, and they were received last Friday at the Murdoch Funeral Home in Cedar Rapids.
One of the last memories his only surviving sibling — Mary Lou Shanahan Pierce, 84 — has of her brother is of him leaving for the Navy.
Then only 5, she was upset that he’d miss her birthday, which was only a few days away.
Nevertheless, Shanahan Pierce recalled her brother being a “great guy” who stuck up for her, she said.
“We were a really close family,” she said.
Hundreds of relatives, family friends and people wishing to honor Shanahan and his service came Tuesday to his funeral.
Father Ivan Nienhaus, who officiated, said every U.S. citizen owes the Shanahan family “deep gratitude” for the sacrifice he made for his country.
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“What inspired William to enlist in the Navy?” Nienhaus asked. “Maybe he saw the inalienable rights of his fellow Americans being threatened in the 1940s. In order to defend and protect life, liberty and happiness of others, he voluntarily surrendered his own freedom to a cause greater than himself.”
Following the funeral, Shanahan was buried with full military honors at Mount Calvary Cemetery. His sister received the burial flag as tears fell down her cheeks.
Carolyn Pierce, her daughter and William Shanahan’s niece, said her heart hurt for her mother.
“She lost her brother when she was very young, and waited for this day for a long time.”
Lisa Panek, another of Shanahan’s nieces, was the first to receive a call from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in November 2018, though at the time the agency could not conclusively confirm it had identified Shanahan’s remains.
“I sat straight up,” Panek said. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is the call our grandparents waited for over 70 years.’ It didn’t dawn on me until afterward when it hit me like a ton of bricks — I wish my mom had been able to get that phone call.”
Robinn Shanahan-Solner, niece to William Shanahan, said her father didn’t talk much about his brother — “he was the strong, silent type,” she said. But she does recall pictures of William Shanahan decorating her grandmother’s house.
Shanahan-Solner said she felt drawn to attend the receiving of the remains Friday and the funeral Tuesday to represent her parents and grandparents, who never got to see Shanahan come home.
Karey Dirks, great-niece to William Shanahan, said that putting him to rest gives relatives who waited so long for this day some sense of closure.
“Finally, after all these years, enough remains have been identified to bury him and lay him to rest next to his parents,” Dirks said.