Billy James Johnson, who died in 1941 during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, is finally being laid to rest by his family in a military funeral at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.
Billy James Johnson, son of William Gould and Zelah Adeline (Dodson) Johnson, was born November 24, 1919, in Caney, Kentucky and was killed in action at the age of 22 on December 7, 1941 when the USS Oklahoma was torpedoed and capsized in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. His remains and those of his comrades had been interred in graves marked as “unknown”. His remains were not identified until 2019.
William and Zelah Johnson started their family on July 4, 1905 in Bolivar, New York. They had 9 children, 8 grew to adulthood. Donald, Neil, George, Thelma, Marion, Billy, Betty, Sidney Joe, and Wanda. By the time Billy was born, the family had already moved from New York to eastern Illinois, to Oklahoma and Kentucky. They had four children by the time they arrived in Caney, Kentucky. Billy’s father was a well driller, and he followed the work because he had mouths to feed. Two children were born in Kentucky and the last two born in Oklahoma. Sometime after 1927, the Johnson family moved to Chama, New Mexico. Billy’s father worked a couple of jobs while there, including running the fish hatchery and the dairy.
While in Chama, a homesteading farmer’s son, Ernest (Ernie) Clark and Billy’s sister, Marion, fell in love and married, a marriage that would last fifty-three years. Ernie and Marion had three sons, Wayne, Wendell and Jerry. Ernie and Marion owned Clark and Sons Wrecking Yard in Santa Fe for many years. Wendell and Jerry chose to call New Mexico home. Clark and Sons Truck and Automotive Garage serves Santa Fe today. Ernie, who also served during World War II, died in 1986. He and Marion are buried in the Santa Fe National Cemetery
By 1940, the Johnson family had moved from Chama, New Mexico and were living in Neosho, Missouri, when Billy enlisted. He was serving on the USS Oklahoma, moored at Pearl Harbor, when it was struck by multiple torpedoes. The battleship capsized, killing 429 men, Billy James Johnson, included. Just two weeks after the attack, Billy’s father was notified in a telegram sent to Neosho, Missouri. “The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your son, Billy James Johnson, Fireman First Class, US Navy is missing …”
In 2015, with the establishment of the Department of POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), and with DNA technology available, the efforts began to disinter and identify the remains of those lost on the USS Oklahoma. Billy was identified February 26, 2019 through mitochondrial DNA compared with the DNA sample of his nephew, Jerry Clark. Of the 429 men that were lost, Billy was the 200th identified, seventy-eight years after his death.
Billy, a Purple Heart recipient, was survived by his parents, William Gould and Zelah Adeline (Dodson) Johnson and by his seven siblings and their growing families. Billy’s father died in the summer of 1946. His mom, a Gold Star mother, died in 1952. His siblings have all passed away. Billy is survived by nephews, Jerry Clark (New Mexico), Bruce Johnson (Arkansas), Bill Johnson (California) and niece, Nita Fay (Johnson) Rodgers (Oregon). He has many great and great-grand nieces and nephews.
Billy James Johnson is coming home. His life and his service to his country will be honored with a military funeral at the Santa Fe National Cemetery on Monday, August 19, 2019, at 11:15am.