Kentucky soldiers returned home for burial, 80 years after Pearl Harbor

Published 10:25 pm Monday, May 31, 2021

The remains of two Kentucky men who died 80 years ago during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor were returned to the commonwealth this week for burial.

U.S. Navy Fireman 3rd Class Welborn L. Ashby’s niece Paula Kern told The Courier Journal that her mother had always been haunted by the uncertainty surrounding Ashby’s death.

The family was told the 24-year-old was declared to have lost his life, but the Navy could not locate the body.

Martha Christian was 13 at the time. In the 1990s she travelled to Hawaii, lowering her feet into the cold waters of Pearl Harbor and weeping for her lost brother. In 2011, she donated DNA to help with the identification of remains, but Christian died in 2017, two years before Ashby’s remains were positively identified by the federal Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

A Memorial Day service was planned for Ashby in Beaver Dam, followed by a burial at Centertown Cemetery with full military honors, including a “Missing Man” flyover by vintage planes.

Paula Kern said she’ll be thinking about her mother and her long quest to have her brother returned home to Kentucky.

“It’s what she would have wanted. And we want that closure too,” Kern said. “We can’t forget all those we’ve lost.”

Ashby was 24 when he died in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack that launched the United States into World War II — one of 2,403 Americans killed. U.S. Navy Seaman 2nd Class Howard Scott Magers, killed at 18, was another.

Magers’ remains arrived in Barren County on Saturday after they were identified by the federal Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. He was laid to rest with full military honors.

Magers’ three brothers and one sister have all died, but sister-in-law Betty Magers, now 91, still lives in the Merry Oaks area and remembers a young Howard Magers, the Daily News reported.

“My parents had a general store in Hays,” said Betty Magers. “He would come real often to the store.

“We had a juke box, and he liked to play the song ‘South of the Border’ by Gene Autry. He was real friendly and always pleasant. I’m just happy that he can be home.”