ATKINSON, Neb. --The remains of U.S. Navy Fireman 1st Class Louis Tushla had never been identified, but after almost 80 years his remains are finally coming back to Atkinson.
Tushla's remains were successfully identified in 2020 by the Offutt lab at the Offutt Air Force base in Omaha, Nebraska. His identification was part of a six-year project to identify the remains of unknown soldiers buried at the "Punchbowl" the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
Louis was the fourth child of Peter and Susanna Tushla and was born on his family's farm northeast of Atkinson on Feb. 13, 1916. Known for their big gardens and fruit orchards Louis helped his family throughout his life on the farm tending the fields and gardens. In 1934 he graduated from Atkinson High School and began working for the Dvorak brothers farm. Tushla joined the U.S. Navy on January 11, 1940, two months after he had been rejected due to infected tonsils. In October of that same year, Tushla was stationed in the main engine room of the USS Oklahoma. Tushla was described as a man of rapid advancement and had obtained the rank of Fireman 1st Class by December of 1941.
Unfortunately on December 7, 1941, Tushla would be among the 429 crewmen who would perish on board the USS Oklahoma. He was the first person from Holt County to die in World War Two. His family, thinking he was not on board during the time of the attack was devastated to learn on December 20 that Louis had been declared missing in action. For two agonizing months, the family waited and wrote to the Navy asking for any confirmation if he had gone down with the ship. Sadly on February 19, what they had feared was the truth: Louis had passed away while onboard the ship. What followed was decades worth of waiting, hoping that Louis' body may be found and returned back home. By the time he was identified all of Tushla's immediate family had passed away.
"For us to be able to take the place of his parents and siblings and that community is just kind of...really really...humbling and honored and privileged thing for us to do," Monsignor James Gil, Tushla's second cousin said.
Tushla's remains will be escorted at noon from the Offutt Air Force Base to Atkinson this Thursday on July 15. The escort will include Tushla's family as well as Legion Riders from across Nebraska. From Omaha, they will travel to Fremont for a maintenance stop as well as pick up other Legion Riders in the escort. From there they will head to Norfolk to refuel and travel along Highway 275 towards Atkinson where Tushla will be delivered to the Seger Funeral Home. Following this the American Legion Family Farley-Tushla Post 86 (the Atkinson American Legion partially named in honor of Tushla) will host a free-will donation burger feed starting at 5:30. All proceeds will go towards the funeral services for Tushla.
On July 16, a visitation will take place from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. at the Seger Funeral Home. Then on Saturday, July 17, St. Joseph's Catholic Church will hold mass followed by the burial of Louis Tushla. He will be buried next to his parents: Peter and Susanna Tushla as well as the headstone of his brother 1st Lt. Harold Tushla who was lost at seas over the Mediterranean off Italy during a bombing mission in 1943.
News Channel Nebraska and select radio affiliates will be providing live coverage throughout the day of Louis Tushla being transported from Omaha to Atkinson on Thursday starting at noon.