Rayon Delois Birdsell was six and his big brother, Estellee, 16 when their mother died in 1929.
Their parents, Lillie Fields Birdsell and Roy Birdsell, were farmers in Greene County, Arkansas. It was a tough way to make a living during the Great Depression. Estellee quit school to help on the farm and to do odd jobs for others. He enlisted in the Navy in 1933 because his job prospects were few.
Rayon, born Oct. 16, 1922, finished high school in Holcomb, Missouri, and by 1940 was living with an aunt in St. Louis. He joined the Navy on March 30, 1941.
Both brothers were assigned to the U.S.S. Arizona — Rayon as a fireman second class and Estellee as machinist’s mate and petty officer first class. Rayon was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. Estellee, who was married, was on shore that Sunday morning and survived.
He was reassigned to a destroyer, the U.S.S. Dale, and served in the Pacific until the end of the war.Estellee lived to age 77. In the late afternoon of Dec. 5, 2017, Navy divers placed an urn with his ashes inside the Arizona. Rayon’s body was never recovered and also remains on the battleship.