Until they are home: 911th AW honors WWII sailor killed at Pearl Harbor with funeral flyover

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Marjorie A. Schurr
  • 911th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

It was a rainy day in the Pittsburgh area, with recent record rainfall leading to historic flooding. Military members stood at attention while civilians huddled in their jackets and under umbrellas at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies, white tombstones stretching in neat rows vanishing into obscurity beneath the downpour. Sailors in crisp uniforms performed military honors and a dedicated musician played the bagpipes as, more than eighty years after his passing, Navy Fireman 1st Class Walter Schleiter was finally laid to rest among his comrades in arms.

And overhead, out of the cloud cover and mist, a C-17 Globemaster III painted in honor of D-Day and World War II flew low and slow as if to accompany the Sailor’s soul to what waits beyond this life.

The 911th Airlift Wing volunteered to perform a rare funeral flyover in honor of Schleiter during his burial April 11, 2024.

“The Air Force is faithful to a proud heritage, a tradition of honor, and a legacy of valor established in the service and sacrifice of all the military men and women who came before,” said Col. Douglas Stouffer, 911th AW commander. “Steel Airmen of the 911th AW are honored to give back to F1c Schleiter and his family, who paid the ultimate price in service to our nation.”

Schleiter, 22, of Massillon, Ohio, was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft on December 7, 1941. The USS Oklahoma sustained multiple torpedo hits, which caused it to quickly capsize. The attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, including Schleiter.

He was accounted for on May 18, 2018, by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). His remains were transferred through Pittsburgh International Airport on April 5 and finally laid to rest on April 11.

This kind of ceremony is solemn and rare, with funeral flyover honors being even more rare, usually reserved for general officers and Medal of Honor recipients. But Steel Airmen viewed it as the least they could do for a heroic local Sailor who paved the way for all military members, regardless of branch of service, who would follow in his footsteps.

"I'm just grateful to be a part of something so historic," Maj. Jeremy Caskey, 911th AW chaplain who spoke during the ceremony, said to KDKA-TV News after the event. "And I am grateful we get a chance to lay this man to rest, who did not have that opportunity, all those years ago."