PALMER, Mass. (WWLP) – The remains of a local World War II veteran have been identified more than 70-years after he was killed in Pearl Harbor.
Navy Seaman First Class Frank Hryniewicz, a native of the Three Rivers section of Palmer was aboard the USS Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor when it came under attack by Japanese forces in 1941. His remains were buried as unknown in Hawaii, and now decades later, he has been identified.
In December of 2011, Fran Griffin, named after her uncle Seaman First Class Frank Hryniewicz, got a call from the Navy looking for her dad, who had passes away three days before.
“They were looking for DNA,” Griffin told 22News. “They were looking for male DNA and they asked me if he had any heirs.”
Seaman First Class Hryniewicz grew up in Three Rivers. He enlisted in the Navy in Springfield and was a seaman aboard the USS Oklahoma, stationed in Pearl Harbor. After the attack on December 7, 1941, his remains were never identified.
Griffin still has the letter her father had sent Frank, hoping he survived the attack, and letting him know he was officially an uncle.
Griffin’s brother and nephew submitted DNA to the Navy, and in January of 2019, they found out it was a match, 77-years after Hryniewicz was killed.
“I was elated and disappointed, elated about the identification,” Griffin expressed. “Disappointed that my father was not alive to know that his bones had been positively identified.”
Peter Hryniewicz Jr. was just 10-years-old when his cousin left to join the Navy. He said growing up, they were only left with rumors of what happened to him.
“Sailors were all jumping off,” Hryniewicz Jr. told 22News. “Frank, they were all swimming away from the boat.”
He never thought his cousin would be identified.
“No, I didn’t think so,” Hryniewicz Jr. continued. “It would be the usual military funeral, you know, we never found after the war. We never found out where he was, what happened.”
Hryniewicz was the first man from Palmer to be killed in World War II. Today, a park in town is named after him.
Marjorie Cavanaugh was just a child when the park was dedicated, but she said the death struck the whole community.
“It had the impact on the town, of hurting every family in town,” Cavanaugh said. “It was every family. They felt like he was their son. And not knowing what happened to him was the worst part.”
Hryniewicz niece said the family now plans to bring his remains back to Hawaii for a full military funeral.