“It feels great because I was only 4 years old when he was killed.”
COLLIN BREAUX News Herald Reporter @PCNHCollinB
PANAMA CITY BEACH — After he died serving his country almost 76 years ago, Navy veteran John Schoonover’s remains finally have been identified.
Schoonover was killed Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor when the USS Oklahoma sunk while he was aboard. On Tuesday, seven decades after World War II ended, his son Robert Schoonover got a visit from three Navy representatives who presented a case file detailing their findings about his father.
Robert Schoonover learned his father’s remains had been discovered in August after niece Nola Murphy, from Tampa, volunteered a DNA sample in hopes they would recover their long-lost patriarch. The DNA was compared to the late veteran’s remains, which are being stored at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, and resulted in a match, positively identifying John Schoonover three quarters of a century after his death.
“It feels great because I was only 4 years old when he was killed,” Schoonover said Tuesday from his Panama City Beach home. When his father died, Schoonover lived in Long Beach, Calif., with his mother, Anita Ruth Bower Schoonover, and sister Juanita.
“I really don’t remember much about him, I’ll be honest,” he said. “He had 21 years and one day on active duty in the U.S. Navy when he was killed. He was what they called at the time a pharmacist’s mate 1st class. Nowadays they call them hospital corpsman.”
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which falls under the Department of Defense, prepared the case file on John Schoonover, which included details of his service, an explanation of the science behind the DNA identification and an overview of the USS Oklahoma’s mission. Dana Swope, a hospital corpsman from Naval Support Activity Mid-South in Millington, Tenn., explained the case file while sitting next to Robert Schoonover on his couch.
“They can tell approximate age was 25 to 39, had European ancestry, with a height anywhere between 68½ to 73½ inches,” Swope said. “This is the first family ID visit I’ve done where it’s more than just the skull. They did recover quite a bit. … He reported on the USS Oklahoma in December of ’39. A lot of the fleet was out in the Pacific to show force to the Japanese aggression in the islands.”
Ralph Schmitz, the Navy Experimental Diving Unit leading chief petty officer for specialized diving, was the local casualty assistance officer who helped on the case. Naval Support Activity Panama City Chaplain John Gibson also came to Schoonover’s home Tuesday to pay respects.
John Schoonover’s name is etched in marble on the “Walls of the Missing” at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii, where his son plans to bury him next to his shipmates. The service members who died in the USS Oklahoma are buried in several communal graves at the cemetery, also known as the “Punchbowl.”
“The USN will add a rosette to his marble etching on the Walls of the Missing indicating that his remains have been found,” Schoonover wrote in a letter provided to The News Herald.
Schoonover eventually followed in his father’s footsteps, enlisting in the Navy March 1956 and serving more than 20 years as a photographer’s mate and photo reconnaissance specialist.