It was a homecoming, a birthday and a funeral.
Charles "Buddy" Gomez lost his life aboard the USS Oklahoma on Dec.7, 1941, when Japanese forces struck Pearl Harbor, but it wasn't until Monday that his body was returned home for burial, on what would have been his 97th birthday.
A 19-year-old second class Navy seaman, Gomez was in the engine room when nine Japanese torpedoes sunk the ship, killing him and 428 other men.
Gomez was previously buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. His remains were considered nonrecoverable. His body remained unidentified until earlier this year, when recent technologies such as mitochondrial DNA and dental analysis were used to identify him.
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In a ceremony at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Cemetery in Slidell, sailors in crisp white uniforms stood at attention next to the flag-draped coffin. The brass tones of taps filled the air, and rifles fired three echoing shots.
“The crew of the USS Oklahoma did everything they could to fight back,” the cemetery's director, Ted Krumm, said. “We honor Charles’ military service to his country.”
Gomez’s family worked on oyster boats at the Canulette Shipyard. He was one of six children, none of whom lived to see his body laid to rest.
But Gomez’s sister named her eldest son after him, and Charles Fogg was front-row at the ceremony honoring his namesake, the uncle he never knew.
"I wish my mom and Meemaw could have been here,” Fogg said, smiling through watering eyes. “We thank you, Lord, for sending Charles home. He’s resting now.”
While there are few people still living who knew Gomez, the cemetery's gazebo was packed with locals and military veterans there to honor the local teen who left home for a war from which he would never return.
"He gave us all a sacrifice for us to have the freedom that we have. The people that came here, they knew that and paid respects for him,” Fogg said.
Fogg recalled, as a child, sitting in church next to his grandfather, who prayed every day for his son to come home.
“His prayers finally got answered,” Fogg said.