On July 8, 2021, nearly 80 years after he died during the attack on Pearl Harbor, the remains of Navy Fireman First Class Neal K. Todd were flown home.
More than 50 of his relatives, including his younger brother who was only eight years old the last time he saw him, greeted Todd’s casket as it was taken off a Southwest flight that had brought him home to Minneapolis.
“I never thought it would happen,” Orville Staffenhagen, now 88, said. “We are happy to have him home.”
Neal grew up in a blended family of 12 in Akeley, Minnesota. Incredibly, eight of the children served in the military at some point during their lives, and five served during Word War II.
Neal enlisted in the United States Navy in 1940 and was assigned to be a fireman on the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor.
When the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941, Orville knew his brother didn’t survive.
It wouldn’t be until several months later when the local newspaper confirmed that 60 men from Minnesota had been killed in action that the family knew for sure.
The brothers’ other sibling, Wes, managed to escape the attack when two sailors on the USS Oklahoma rushed him to safety.
Although the family had their confirmation that Neal died during the attack, it remained a difficult time because they were unable to bury his body.
Neal’s remains, along with the more than 400 other crewmembers who died that day, were sent to two local cemeteries in Hawaii. It wasn’t until 1947 when the federal government began attempting to identify the remains.
However, despite their best efforts they were only able to identify 35 remains, which left many more, including Neal unaccounted for. Those remains were buried in plots in what became known as the Punchbowl.
Another attempt to identify the remains of soldiers killed on the USS Oklahoma was made in 2015.
New technology made it easier for those tasked with identifying remains previously tagged as “non-recoverable,” and on February 11, 2021, Neal’s remains were identified.
“Immediately, basically the first words out of his mouth were, ‘I never thought this day would ever happen.’ This is a miracle for him to finally have his brother come home,” Anthony Staffenhagen, Neal’s nephew, said. “It’s something many of us have wanted for many, many years. It’s gonna be a blessing now to finally bring him home.”
And on July 8, eight decades after Neal was killed, he finally returned home for a proper military burial.
“We are proud of him,” Orville said. “We’re sure proud to have him coming home.”
He was finally laid to rest on July 10. Neal was buried next to his mother and father.
Welcome home, Neal, and may you rest in eternal peace.
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