MOLLIE S. WATERS/THE GREENVILLE STANDARD
Listening to Jean Bodiford and her three daughters, Linda Jernigan, Betty Pickens and Sally Piggott talk about their family is to learn how deep some families’ roots run in the military.
The ladies have had many generations of their family, and extended family as well serve in the various engagements in which the United States has been involved.
Jernigan recounts the hardships her late father-in-law Ed Jernigan, who was a prisoner of war during World War II (WWII), suffered.
Pickens beams with pride as she tells of her son’s, Leander Pickens, more recent service in the Middle East.
Piggott talks of her husband’s uncle, Thomas Edward Piggott, who lost his life onboard the “USS Birmingham” during WWII.
Bodiford tells of her first cousin, Leon Cobb, who died during the Korean War.
Yet, it is the story of an uncle, William Henry Sollie, who lost his life at Pearl Harbor and the recent discovery of his remains that brings the women together now.
Though Bodiford only has one clear memory of her late uncle, Henry Sollie made quite an impression on her.
“I must have been about six,” said Bodiford, “and he was on leave. He looked so handsome in his sailor suit. I liked his bell bottom trousers.”
Jean Bodiford was not quite ten years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed. She and her family members were going about their everyday lives when the news came over the radio that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.
Bodiford’s mother had two brothers at Pearl Harbor that day: Henry and Fred.
Henry was on the “USS Oklahoma” where he worked in the boiler room as a fireman. Fred worked the same job during the same shift, but he was onboard a smaller vessel, the “USS Schley.”
From the “Schley,” Fred watched as Henry’s ship was torpedoed repeatedly.
“Uncle Fred saw it,” said Bodiford. “He was always reluctant to talk about it, though.”
According to a WWII Memo from 2010, the “Oklahoma” suffered heavy casualties. 415 Navy personnel and 14 Marines perished; among that number was Henry Sollie.
Only 36 of the 429 dead were identified in the days following the attack. The recovered remains of the other 393 men were buried among the unknowns at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP or Punchbowl).
In recent years, an effort to identify the remains of those 393 men has been underway. Surviving family members were contacted several years ago and given the option of sending in their DNA to help with these efforts.
“They could only go through mitochondrial DNA,” said Piggott, “so only family members through the female line could be used. Granny only had one girl, my mom Jean.”
Though Henry had other siblings, he only had one sister, and she only had one daughter, so the only way his remains could be identified was through Bodiford’s DNA or through the DNA of one of her daughters.
The family members decided to submit their DNA for testing.
“We had almost given up hope of Uncle Henry ever being identified,” said Bodiford, “but when the man from the Navy called in August and told me they had a match, this family went crazy!”
Currently, the Navy has only identified Sollie’s skull, which family members believe may have been protected by his fireman’s hat.
The family was given the choice to hold out for additional bones to be analyzed and having one ceremony at that time, or having a ceremony now. They selected to do it sooner instead of later.
“I’m eighty-five years old,” said Bodiford. “I want to see my uncle laid to rest during my lifetime.”
Should additional bones be determined to belong to Sollie, they will be returned at a future date.
For Bodiford and her family, this identification has been an answer to a long asked for prayer.
“What this means is he’s going to come home again,” said Bodiford, “and we will have closure. He always wanted to come home.”
Pickens added she was glad her uncle was getting this honor.
“We grew up in the shadow of WWII,” said Pickens, “so we knew about Uncle Henry.”
Her sisters echoed her sentiment.
“I’m proud to come from a country that honors the dead,” said Piggott.
“Mama always wanted this to happen,” said Jernigan, “and now it’s possible.”
The service for William Henry Sollie will be in Pensacola, Fla. on Jan. 6.
Sollie’s remains will be at Oak Lawn Funeral Home at 619 North New Warrington Road beginning at 11 a.m., then those in attendance will be escorted for a service at the Naval Air Station Pensacola Chapel. Interment will follow at Barrancas National Cemetery.
Due to security restrictions when entering the naval base, the family suggests those planning to attend arrive early at the funeral home in order to join the procession. They hope many will be present to honor Sollie and his sacrifice for the United States.
In one of his last letters home to his aunt Mary, Henry Sollie wrote, “But some day Dear, I know I’ll come sailing back again.”
75 years later, his dreams of coming home are finally becoming a reality.