WINNIE, Texas (KTRK) -- Eighty years after the Pearl Harbor attack, a Navy Seaman from Winnie, Texas, was finally laid to rest in his hometown on Tuesday morning.
Last week, the body of Navy Seaman 2nd Class Charles L. Saunders arrived at Bush Intercontinental Airport.
The Chambers County Sheriff's Office then escorted the hero's body to Winnie.
Saunders was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma and was on the ship when it was attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
The attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, including Saunders.
While his body was recovered, it would take decades before he was identified.
According to Saunders' obituary, he was among the servicemen who were initially buried at the Halawa and Nu'uanu Cemeteries.
The remains would eventually move to a permanent burial site at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific also known as the Punchbowl.
Three hundred-ninety members of the USS Oklahoma were buried in 61 caskets in 45 mass grave locations.
But Saunders' surviving sibling, Anna Belle, wanted to see her brother's body return home so he could be buried next to their parents at Fairview Cemetery in Winnie.
According to records, Saunders' father ordered a headstone for him on Sept. 30, 1964.
With the help of Anna Belle and DNA analysis, Saunders' remains were finally identified on Feb. 11, 2021.
On Tuesday morning, family and friends gathered for a graveside service for Saunders, complete with military honors in Winnie.
Ahead of the service, a procession got underway just after 10 a.m. from Broussard's Mortuary to Fairview Cemetery for Saunders' burial, which was open to the public.
"I think less than 5% of all people serve in the U.S. military, and then to have someone who gave your life for our freedom, it's a very special occasion for students but also for grown ups, to be able to participate and show our respects to Mr. Saunders and his family. We really do appreciate the sacrifice that he made for our freedoms," said Erik Kvarme, a captain with the Chambers County Sheriff's Office.
Kvarme, who served in the Marine Corps for six years and in the Army with a special missions unit, said it always makes him emotional to see a casket and flag, knowing how a servicemember gave of himself for the country.
"The support from the county has been tremendous. The citizens here in Winnie and all of Chambers County, any time something like this happens, they come out to support. It's such a special occasion. And the support that they've given for Mr. Saunders and his family has just been tremendous," Kvarme explained.
People lined the road to salute Saunders, including students from the East Chambers Independent School District, where he was a student.
The procession passed by the elementary, junior high and high schools on its route to the cemetery. Students stood outside with flags.
"I've talked to a couple of the family members. They're very relieved to finally have Mr. Saunders identified, but also to finally bring closure and to have him put to rest here in Winnie," Kvarme said.