MONROE, Sevier County — A new home, a fiancé and law school were waiting for Elliott Deen Larsen in December 1941.
More than 75 years later, his community is preparing for his return.
Larsen was released from the Navy on Dec. 6, 1941, but was not ready to leave Hawaii and return to civilian life just yet. The sailor, 25, wanted to see the sights and savor his time playing baritone in the U.S. Navy Band at ceremonies around the world, from Arlington to London's Westminster Abbey, where he performed at the 1937 coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
Larsen, a musician first class, planned to stay an extra two weeks on the USS Oklahoma before heading home to his tiny ranching community in central Utah for Christmas.
The morning after his release, Larsen was one of 429 crewmen who perished on the torpedoed ship in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7.
His mother wept, and his uncle Dan gave a eulogy. A headstone went up in the Monroe Cemetery. But a body never was found.
“After exhaustive search, it has been found impossible to locate your son,” the Navy's chief of navigation wrote in an undated telegram addressed to the Larsens, "and he has officially been declared to have lost his life" while serving.
Now, a military identification program using DNA analysis has finally brought closure to his family. Officers flew into Salt Lake City Thursday morning to return Larsen’s remains to Monroe in Sevier County.
"It's amazing," said his sister, Betty Lou Worley, 95, at her home in Monroe earlier this month. Worley and Larsen’s relatives, including many of his more than two dozen great grandnieces and grandnephews, are set to honor him with a homecoming memorial service Friday.
After the attack, Worley's parents and brother Max held hope Larsen had survived but lost his memory. They had lived in a tent all summer as they built a new home and hoped he would return to see it.
"We just assumed that we would find him," said Worley. Her mother often wondered aloud if Larsen might come to the door, then started to sob at the notion her firstborn would never come back.
Still, the parents did not give up. After spotting a magazine article featuring one of Deen’s Navy buddies, the pair traveled to San Diego to meet with the friend.
He told them he had planned to meet with Larsen Sunday morning to go exploring but never saw the musician again, Worley said.
Her father was determined to find Larsen’s instrument, if not his son, and prodded the Navy to recover it from Larsen’s lockers in Pearl Harbor and Long Beach, California. The baritone cost him $280 dollars, he wrote to military officers. It was never found.
As an adult, Worley came to believe her brother would always stay on the list of unidentified crewmen, she said.
That changed in November, when Larsen's younger sister and his niece got a call from the military asking if they would swab the inside of their mouths. They agreed and sent in the DNA samples.
"We thought we'd never hear from them," said Lisa King, Larsen's niece.
In February, just before what would have been Larsen’s 101st birthday, the pair received a call saying their DNA matched remains disinterred from a Hawaii cemetery in the effort to identify the 388 sailors and Marines who were aboard the Oklahoma but were unaccounted for.
A month later, a Navy captain and two officers rang her doorbell in Monroe. They brought bound copies of the military’s paperwork pertaining to Larsen and pledged to bring his remains home in time for Memorial Day.
Around the country, relatives of hundreds of fallen sailors yet to be identified still are waiting for the opportunity to lay their loved ones to rest.
“While not all families will receive an individual identification, we will strive to provide resolution to as many families as possible,” said the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency when it launched the retrieval program in 2015 with a focus on the USS Oklahoma.
Since then, 63 men aboard the ship have been identified, according to the agency.
Larsen and 18 other Utah servicemen in Hawaii at the time of the attack were listed as “not recovered” as of September, according to the most recent numbers available.
Larsen, for his part, enlisted Dec. 14, 1935.
He was drawn to the Navy by the prospect of playing in the Navy band, Worley said, after transferring from Idaho State University, where he was studying pharmacy, to what is now the United States Armed Forces School of Music.
A binder of photographs compiled by his parents shows Deen as a youngster in a black cap on a family trip to Tijuana, Mexico; later, with a wide smile, beside his high school sweetheart who became his fiancé; and crouching behind his Boston terrier, Toots, in the backyard.
Worley recalls her eldest brother as a talented singer who picked up baritone and trumpet easily and stocked up on legal books when he came into port.
Larsen’s favorite song, "Bells of the Sea," is to be sung at his service Friday at his graveside where his medals, including an American Defense Service, World War II victory and Purple Heart were set to be laid, near the plots where his parents are buried.
Said Worley: "I can't even imagine how happy they would have been."