SAN ANTONIO – Navy Fireman 1st Class Frank Nicoles was born and raised in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in January of 1917. Nicoles lived with his grandparents and eventually enlisted in the Navy in 1940.
“He enlisted, actually, 82 years ago today in the Navy,” Jack Collier said. Collier is Nicoles’ extended family through marriage. “My wife would be Frank’s first cousin, two generations removed. So basically, her grandfather was a first cousin of Frank.”
Only two short months after enlisting, Nicoles was assigned on the USS Oklahoma battleship along with his younger brother, John C. Nicoles.
“His younger brother actually joined at 17 (years old), and I guess he probably asked to be assigned to the same ship,” Collier said.
Their military careers would eventually lead them to Pearl Harbor, and on December 7, 1941, an attack on the USS Oklahoma left 429 service members dead.
While his younger brother survived, Frank did not. Frank was only 24 years old. According to an article from the Eau Claire newspaper published in 1941, Frank’s grandfather received a statement that notified him of his grandson’s fate.
The statement read:
“After exhaustive search it has been found impossible to locate your ward, Frank Edward Nicoles, fireman first class U.S. navy, and he has therefore been officially declared to have lost his life in the service of his country as of December seventh, nineteen forty-one. The department expresses to you its sincerest sympathy.”
Nicoles was reported “Missing in Action” by the Navy Department.
His remains were buried and marked as “Unknown” in the Punchbowl National Cemetery in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Generations later, Frank’s remains were identified by modern DNA analysis.
“The government actually used mitochondrial DNA, DNA from the mother’s side. My wife’s whole family is from the father’s side so, there are two individuals they actually collected DNA from,” Collier said.
The process of identification began in 2013 under the leadership of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. The remains of the 429 service members were recovered and analyzed at labs in Hawaii and Nebraska.
According to a press release from organizers, “The two labs, staffed by anthropologists and forensic archeologists began the largest skeletal identification project in the world.”
Frank’s family, who lives in Austin was contacted about the positive findings in 2016.
“It was a surprise to hear that he had been identified,” Christopher Thompson said. Thompson was only five months old when his cousin died. “We had long ago given up any thought of that happening, and it’s kind of gratifying to pull this all back together.”
His family petitioned for Frank’s remains to be moved closer to home.
“In 2020, we made the decision to have a burial,” Collier said. “We waited a year and a half, almost two years to do this. The decision (to bring him to Texas) was because there was more family down here.”
His remains finally arrived on Friday at the San Antonio International Airport thanks in part to the help of Mission Park Funeral Chapels and Cemeteries.
“We actually went to what they call the Ramp Ceremony on Friday where we met the plane, and they took the remains off while keeping all the passengers on board,” Collier said “It was very moving.”
On Monday afternoon, the sailor had a proper burial ceremony at Ft Sam Houston National Cemetery with full honors.
“I’m very pleased to see it,” Thompson said.