Unknown Sailor

S1c Walter Overton Coburn

Walter Overton Coburn was born Nov. 16, 1921 in St. Louis, Missouri to Frances Brown Coburn, a homemaker, and Charles Coburn. Walter was the fourth of their nine children.

The Coburns moved to Oklahoma in about 1923, then back to Missouri about three years later. The 1930 Census said the father was a farmer in Howell County in the Ozarks in the south-central part of the state. By the early 1940s the family lived in Peace Valley in the same county.

The oldest child, Glen, was 19 when he enlisted in the Army in 1934. His service continued into the 1950s in Korea.

Sons Walter and George may have enlisted in the Navy on the same day — Sept. 25, 1940. Navy muster rolls agree that George, then 22, enlisted on that date. But one muster roll says that Walter enlisted in January 1940. Walter stated in an initial application in November 1939 that he was uncertain whether his father was alive because the parents had divorced. 

What is certain is that Walter and George were aboard the U.S.S. Arizona starting in January 1941. They were seamen first class when George was temporarily transferred on Oct. 31 for instruction at a mine school.  Walter was killed five weeks later when Japan bombed and sank the Arizona at Pearl Harbor. George became a chief gunner’s mate, serving until February 1953. He died in 2001.

A fourth brother, John W. Coburn, was an Army staff sergeant when he was killed in the Philippines on Feb. 3, 1945.

At least one of their sisters, Betty Jo, born in 1929, served in the Army in Korea and Vietnam. She died in 1980.

A step-brother, Donald Moore, served in the Army during World War II.

Sources: the Santa Cruz (California) Sentinel; The Seminole (Oklahoma) Producer; Census; Navy muster rolls; grave markers; death certificates. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.
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