Finally home: Interment ceremony held for Cavalier, N.D., sailor killed in attack on Pearl Harbor

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The remains of Frank Wells, a sailor from Cavalier, N.D., who was killed in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, were laid to rest in North Dakota Tuesday. (Sydney Mook/Grand Forks Herald)

MANDAN — As a cold wind blew and a horn played taps, Floyd Wells was finally home.

It's been nearly 78 years since his death aboard the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941, the day Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor. But Tuesday, Wells was laid to rest in North Dakota soil.

Wells, a Cavalier native who also lived in Fairdale, enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1938, a few years after graduating from high school at Fairdale, in northeast North Dakota. He was one of five radio operators on the USS Arizona when it was attacked by Japanese aircraft, killing 1,177 crewmen.

Decades later, Wells’ remains were positively identified through DNA testing. It was a breakthrough that brought peace and closure to members of his extended family.


Darlene Erichsen, Wells’ niece, quietly accepted the flag that had been draped over her uncle’s casket as other family members stood by during an interment ceremony Tuesday afternoon at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery near Mandan. All of Wells’ nieces and nephews were able to attend the ceremony. It was the first face-to-face meeting for some of the cousins, said Erichsen, who was 7 when Wells died.

In 2017, family members gave the Navy a sample of their DNA. Two years later, Erichsen received a phone call, confirming a match. Floyd, they were told, would be coming home.

“I couldn’t believe what I heard when I got the phone call,” Erichsen said, recalling the day she learned her uncle’s remains had been positively identified.

Knowing Wells is back in North Dakota after so many years is “unreal,” Erichsen said. She said it was an emotional experience, but also peaceful because she and her family always will remember this day.

“Floyd has peace,” she said. “His mother and father and the family that are no longer with us, I feel that they have peace.”

Col. Frank Tank, an intelligence officer assigned to the U.S. Department of Defense’s POW MIA accounting agency, is part of the agency assigned to research, investigate, recover and identify remains of military service members who either were taken prisoner or were declared missing in action. The agency conducts more than 200 accountings a year.

“We have a sacred obligation and a moral imperative to provide accounting of all unknown service members from World War II to present day and to inform the families of that account,” he said.


Tank said moments like Tuesday's funeral can offer a “measure of closure after so many years” for families.

“Knowing that their sailor, their soldier, their airman, their Marine isn’t in an unknown grave,” he said. “It is marked with his name and it is here. It can provide some measure of peace for the family.”

Tank has his own connection to Wells. Tank's mother-in-law babysat some of Wells’ family members years ago. Tank is from North Dakota and his mother and her family are from the Cavalier area, where Wells was born.

“For me, having a personal family connection via my mother-in-law to this family … provides a rewarding measure to all of the years of service knowing that I can do something for a family from my home state,” he said.

Wells' name is on a wall at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. Now that he is identified, a roset will be placed next to his name.

Though North Dakota and Hawaii are separated by more than 3,000 miles, Wells is connected to both.

“He’ll be forever still linked to the shipmates of the USS Arizona in Hawaii at that cemetery," Tank said. "But he will also be here with his family in North Dakota."


Sydney Mook has been the news editor at the Post Bulletin since June 2023. In her role she edits and assigns stories and helps reporters develop their work for readers.

Mook was previously with the Grand Forks Herald from May 2018 to June 2023. She served as the Herald's managing editor, as well as the higher education reporter.

For story pitches contact her at or call her at 507-285-7771.
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