Alva Jackson Cremean
Marine Detachment, USS Oklahoma
|HOME OF RECORD
Rocky Ford, CO
|NEXT OF KIN
Parents, William & Marguerite Cremean
|DATE OF BIRTH
November 8, 1920
July 13, 1940
|DATE OF LOSS
December 7, 1941
|CAMPAIGN / AREA
MIA (Declared Dead)
|CIRCUMSTANCES OF LOSS
Private First Class Alva Jackson Cremean, a member of the Marine detachment of the USS Oklahoma, was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. His body was recovered from the wreck of his ship, and buried as an unknown in a common grave in Oahu.
PFC Cremean was accounted for on 14 August 2018.
|LAST KNOWN RANK
Private First Class
|STATUS OF REMAINS
USS Oklahoma Memorial
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
Arbor Vitae Cemetery, Madera, CA
Alva “Jack” Cremean was born on November 8, 1920. He was raised in Pueblo by his parents, Marguerite and William Paul Cremean, and moved to nearby Rocky Ford after his junior year of high school. Jack graduated from Rocky Ford High School 1939, but the year ended on a tragic note. One of his three younger sisters, Billie Jean, died that December at the age of ten.
Jack took a job as a sales clerk at the Rocky Ford JC Penney, but evidently decided that a merchant’s life was not for him. On 13 July 1940, he joined the Marine Corps from a Denver recruiting office, and that very day departed for Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. He was proficient with weapons, earning the silver badge of a rifle sharpshooter as well as three other qualifications, and upon completing boot camp was assigned to Sea School. After a final four weeks of instruction, Private Cremean received his coveted orders: he was to report to Captain Robert H. Williams, senior officer of the Marine detachment aboard the fleet battleship USS Oklahoma. On 8 October 1940, Jack and a handful of new privates (including Marley R. Arthurholtz) stepped aboard the ship that would be their home for the next fourteen months. Soon they were on their way to Pearl Harbor join the rest of the Pacific fleet.
Jack’s exact role aboard the Oklahoma was not recorded in the detachment’s muster rolls. With his previous record keeping experience, he might have served as a detachment clerk or an orderly to one of the ship’s senior officers. Marines manned the five-inch guns of the Oklahoma’s secondary batteries and spotted targets from control stations high above the deck. An unfortunate few – usually the newer members – sweated in the Marine galleys as messmen, assisting the detachment cooks in serving and clearing meals. Whatever his role, Jack was noticed by his detachment officers and promoted to Private First Class in early 1941.
Aside from a refit at Puget Sound, the Oklahoma remained in Hawaiian waters for most of 1941. The Marines aboard provided color guards for ceremonies, honor guards for visiting officers, and ship guards whenever they were in port – especially when there was liberty call. Some participated in organized athletics; ships of the fleet fielded a number of sports teams, and there were gunnery competitions against the defending champs aboard the USS Arizona. Being stationed at one of the most infamous liberty ports in the world was an irresistible draw for many; although Jack kept out of trouble, some of his buddies got into scrapes in Honolulu – and some bit off more than they could chew.
The first Sunday in December, 1941, was a liberty day and the men began lining up early to go ashore. One Marine, Private Arnold Cornwell, thought that nearly forty Marines – almost half the detachment – were gathered on deck at 0755 when strange planes appeared in the sky overhead. In the next ten minutes, the Oklahoma was struck by eight torpedoes and the order was passed to abandon ship. At 0820, the big battleship capsized at her moorings, taking hundreds of sailors and twelve Marines to their deaths. PFC Alva Jackson Cremean was not seen after the Oklahoma sank, and although he was originally reported as missing in action, his status was soon updated to killed in action.
Following a painstaking engineering operation, the Oklahoma was righted and refloated in early 1944. While salvage crews cleaned and removed anything of possible military value, other teams searched through years of accumulated muck for human remains. Navy diver Edward C. Raymer was tasked with taking a civilian reported aboard the ship:
We reached the third deck, and Burns asked me about dead bodies: how many had been found, what was done with them, how they could be identified.
I explained that the medics sorted through all the sludge and debris for bones. Then they placed approximately two hundred bones in a bag, which represented the number in a human body. The bag was sent to the army hospital, where a chaplain performed services for the remains. According to the Oklahoma’s muster records, four hundred of the crew perished aboard her. I finished by saying I was glad it wasn’t my job to explain to the sailors’ families why their loved ones remained unidentified. The reasons could seem very offensive to them.
Slithering through the ankle-deep filth, Burns caught himself as his foot struck something on the deck. He cried out in revulsion when he found it was part of a human body. “My God, I’ve stumbled over a leg. It even has a shoe on what’s left of the foot.”
– Edward C. Raymer, Descent Into Darkness: Pearl Harbor, 1941, A Navy Diver’s Memoir
The remains recovered from the Oklahoma were buried in fifty-two mass graves in Halawa and Nuuanu Cemeteries on the island of Oahu. At the end of the war, the graves were exhumed with the intent of identifying as many of the dead as possible before reinterment in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Dr. Mildred Trotter, one of the anthropologists in charge of the Central Identification Laboratory, was dismayed to note that “common graves consist[ed] of bones of a kind buried together (i.e. one casket was filled with skulls, another with femurs, another with hip bones and so on)” – a strange decision that “added greatly to the difficulty of the undertaking.” Although her technicians made “a very honest effort… to segregate all the remains from the Oklahoma,” Dr. Trotter admitted that it would take “a very long period (years)” and “different circumstances” to fully separate all the remains. Only 49 men could be identified by the end of 1949; the remainder were buried in 46 common graves in Honolulu.
In 2015, an official directive was passed to exhume the graves of the Oklahoma’s final crew. Modern science and DNA analysis provided the “different circumstances” Dr. Trotter’s note required, and more than 100 of the crew have so far been identified. PFC Alva Cremean’s remains were among them; he was officially accounted for on 14 August 2018.