Navy Steward's Mate 1st Class Cyril Isaac Dusset was finally laid to rest in his native Louisiana on Thursday, his family watching with solemn pride as a phalanx of sailors carried his flag-draped coffin under gray skies for a funeral held more than 75 years after his death during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Dusset and 428 other crew members aboard the USS Oklahoma perished when their battleship was hit by torpedoes during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack and capsized.
Only 35 of the dead were identified at the time, and for decades the New Orleans native was buried along with other unidentified crew mates in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
On Thursday, however, he was buried with full military pomp at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Cemetery in Slidell amid a crowd of more than 50 family members, military personal and veterans.
"This is a bittersweet moment for us," nephew Mitchell Dusset said during a service held in the cemetery's outdoor pavilion. "When Uncle Cyril died, his parents and all his siblings, none of them had the opportunity to have closure, to see him come home. But a host of nieces and nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews, many of whom are here, knew of him from our parents, who grieved that his body was not recovered."
Some of those family members provided DNA to help identify Dusset.
In 2015, the Defense Department began exhuming remains of sailors from the USS Oklahoma, bringing modern technology to bear in an effort to finally return them to loved ones.
Freddie Dusset, 73, said he was among those contacted by the Department of Defense. While he is the oldest living family member, he was still born after his uncle's death. His father served alongside his uncle on the USS Oklahoma, he said, but was home on leave to get married when the attack occurred.
Freddie grew up seeing his uncle's photos and medals on his grandparents' walls and hearing stories about him.
The family came from New Iberia, Opelousas and Lafayette, but Cyril's parents moved to New Orleans and raised a family of six boys and three girls. All the brothers served in the military, with Cyril joining up at 19.
"It was a way of getting away, to prove himself, advance himself," said Freddie Dusset. "As a black man, he didn't have very much to look forward to. He wanted to see the world, go places, learn things."
Pictures of Cyril show a handsome young man in uniform and alongside fellow members of the USS Oklahoma's boxing team, looking, as nephew Glen Dusset said, "very determined, confident."
But life in a segregated military had limitations for men like his uncle, Freddie Dusset said. "Black soldiers and sailors were servants in the military," he said. "They served the officers and the enlisted men. During that time, they didn't allow black sailors to use rifles or anti-aircraft weapons. They were cooks and cleaned up."
He said he hopes that the return of his uncle's remains does more than provide closure for family members who can now visit his gravesite. He hopes it calls attention to the service of African-Americans in World War II.
"Whatever he was doing (when the Japanese attacked), whether he was asleep, cooking, helping someone, trying to get a gun, he is our hero." Mitchell Dusset said. "My 15-year-old grandson knows someone in his family was a hero, his great-great-uncle. And he can say it with pride."