DELTA, Utah — Memorial Day 2021 will be the last one a Delta family will gather at an empty cemetery marker.
Navy Radioman 3rd Class Theodore Q. Jensen, 22, of Delta was aboard the USS Oklahoma when it was attacked by Japanese aircraft on Dec. 7, 1941. The attack killed 429 crewmen aboard the battleship, including Jensen, who was on leave that day.
"His buddies drove back to my mom and said as he got off the ship, he said, 'Oh, I forgot my camera,'" said Sharon Senecal, Jensen's niece. "And that was the last they saw of him."
It eight weeks for the Navy to declare Jensen missing, and eight years to declare him dead.
Jensen's mother died when he was six, so he grew up with aunts, cousins and his father.
"My grandfather lost his son. He lost his dreams of what his son could become," said Margaret Ribeek, Jensen's niece.
But no one lost hope of bringing Jensen home to Delta. The town has markers for him, but not him.
"My grandfather always wanted him home," Ribeek said.
Jensen was buried with the other soldiers and sailors, and in 2015, the Navy started exhuming and identifying them.
Using dental and anthropological analysis on unknown remains, officials were finally able to identify Jensen on Dec. 17, 2020.
Jensen's remains will fly into Salt Lake City on Tuesday, followed by a ceremony at home in Delta.
"I'm excited to have him back in Utah and be buried back in Delta where he belongs," said Ribeek.
"All of this is just one miracle after another," Senecal said.