All Things Soldier: Rest In Peace, Seaman Thornton

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

Rogersville native and long-time Athens resident Leonel White was born in the early 1950s, with World War II having been won just a few years earlier. The cost and loss to families was still fresh, and one of the people about whom she heard often while growing up was Seaman 2nd Class Cecil H. Thornton. Leonel’s mother was close to Cecil in age, and when Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941, Cecil perished along with 429 others who were serving aboard the USS Oklahoma. His death greatly affected the small town of Rogersville, but no one suffered more than Cecil’s mother, Lily. For years, because there was no way of determining categorically if Cecil had died, Lily held forth hope that he would return, and now he has. At the time of his death, Cecil was engaged to be married. His only sibling, his sister Christine married and had children that never got a chance to meet their uncle, but his nephew, John Belue was present to honor him.

In 2019, the Navy, through the use of DNA profiling was able to locate the remains of Cecil Thornton, and to date, the remains of 355 crew members on the Oklahoma have been identified. On March 11, Cecil Thornton was buried with full military honors in Civitan Cemetery in Rogersville, and sadly could not be buried next to his parents, but was laid to rest near his cousins. Leonel told me about the ceremony, which she attended with her grandsons. She certainly understands the importance of honoring the fallen and teaching her grandsons about the sacrifices that have been made for our freedoms.

Cecil Howard Thornton quit school in the 10th grade, and went to work in the cotton fields. Two years later, before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Cecil joined the US Navy in December of 1939, hoping to have a career with the USN. He died two years later while serving his country,

The following is from a press release prepared by the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency:

To identify Thornton’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.

Thornton’s name is recorded in the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl, (the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific) along with the others who are missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

It has taken eight decades, perseverance, and improved technology, but Seaman Thornton is home in Alabama where he belongs. And I am glad that the people of North Alabama, including my friends were there to honor him. Rest in peace, Cecil Howard Thornton, and thank you for your service.

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner