A sad reality of war is that when a person is lost in the line of duty, they are not always brought back home. Scores of soldiers are listed as missing in action or their remains cannot be conclusively identified, resulting in years of unresolved pain for their families. Some question if their loved one is really gone and may hold out hope they will return home.
In Pittsfield, the family of Roman Sadlowski has spent eight decades without answers. Sadlowski, a sailor on the USS Oklahoma, was presumed dead after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor but his remains were never officially found. Last December, breakthroughs in DNA technology officially identified Sadlowski as one of the unknown soldiers buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
Sadlowski’s surviving relatives spoke to Connecting Point’s Ross Lippman about what it’s like to finally get answers about the day that led the United States to enter World War II, and the 18-year-old they lost.
This segment originally aired on May 27, 2019.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: A sad reality of war is that when a life is lost in the line of duty, it’s not always brought back home.
Soldiers missing in action or soldiers who remains are not identified can result in years of unresolved feelings for their family. Some question if their loved one is really gone, and many hope that one day they may come home.
As Connecting Point’s Ross Lipman shows us, in Pittsfield, a family went eight decades asking this very question and finally received answers about the day that led the United States to enter World War Two and the 18 year old they lost.
John Herrera, Pittsfield Veterans Services: When Pearl Harbor was bombed, everybody in the country knew it.
Archived News Footage: President Roosevelt said in a statement today that the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, from the air.
John Herrera: What they didn’t know was who’s missing, who’s accounted for.
Dennis Arseneau, Roman Sadlowski’s Nephew: Every time I asked a question, I got tears. No details. I can only guess that it was because of my uncle’s death in Pearl Harbor.
You know, he had died at such a young age, at 18 years old, and it was — it was just a grief that the family never got over.
Ross Lippman, Connecting Point: Navy Electron’s mate third class Roman W. Sadlowski, known as Raymond by his family, was aboard the USS Oklahoma on December 7th, 1941.
It’s Raymond’s last day on Earth.
Dennis Arseneau: It was hard to get information about my Uncle Raymond. His picture was up on a wall in the dining room, and every time I asked, you know about him, tears would stream down my grandmother’s face and same with my mom.
You know, he was close to his family. He was a devout Catholic. He started working at the G — at General Electric, which is local, you know, industrial town. And for whatever reason, joined the navy at a very young age.
And that’s what I know about him.
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: In Pittsfield, the Sadlowskis’ are left with a letter from President Roosevelt, but Roman’s body left unaccounted for — a tally that would rise to over 72,000 soldiers during World War Two.
John Herrera, Pittsfield Veterans Services: That effect has to be, you know, obviously it’s very devastating to the family members. The trepidation that came with that had to be tremendous.
It had to be, you know, the waiting to hear that call. They wait and wait and wait and wait.
Ross Lippman: Then this past December, seventy seven years later, Raymond Sadlowski’s remains are identified in Hawaii, closing a circle that outlived most of Raymond’s immediate family, leaving Dennis Arsenau, his nephew and last living local relative, with the final pieces of Sadlowski’s past.
Dennis Arseneau: My first thoughts when I saw the Purple Heart? “Huh.”
That, you know, it’s a medal, it’s — it’s — it’s — it’s meaningless without context. His name is printed on the back, and — but looking at it, you don’t fully understand the sacrifice he made.
It wasn’t just someone who was injured in battle, he was killed in battle, you know, at 18. At 18.
Ross Lippman: It was in the final years of Jessie Arseneau’s life, the daughter of Mary and Valentine, brother of Raymond, that she gives her son Dennis, the Purple Heart, birth certificate, and letter from President Roosevelt.
The weight of these three items, Dennis suspects, she carried for a long time.
Dennis Arseneau: My mom was was very educated. She was smart. My dad hadn’t graduated from high school and he came from a rough side of town.
And, you know, an outside observer would never understand the connection of what brought them together. But he was disabled veteran from a Pacific, you know, returning after spending a year in San Diego. He was severely wounded and in battle.
And I think my mom saw him as my uncle, saw a little bit of him. And I think that was the tie.
Dennis Arseneau: I wish that my grandmother had known that his remains were identified, that he was truly dead. She never knew that.
Ross Lippman: For Dennis, one more question remains left unanswered.
The surviving members of Raymond’s family can now choose where his remains should go, which includes here in Pittsfield, alongside Raymond’s parents.
Dennis Arseneau, Roman Sadlowski’s Nephew: Having remains be placed on top of his mother and father’s remains, to me, might not be the right place for him.
You know, I think that his — his place and time was at Pearl Harbor. And you know, if, if and when I get a vote, that’s probably what I would vote for.