HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Dale McClure can hardly contain her excitement. The Henrico woman's family tree is about to grow by a few branches.
She is about to meet a cousin for the first time.
Dale and Anne Marie Schmitz live about eight miles from each other, but the cousins have never laid eyes on one another until now. But the introduction of Dale and Anne Marie isn't the result of an Ancestry website search.
Instead, it began with phone call from the U.S. Navy.
“I was quite surprised,” Dale said. “In fact, I was glad you know?”
Dale and Anne Marie's uncle Andrew Schmitz joined the Navy in 1934. The Church Hill native was serving on board the U.S.S. Oklahoma on December 7, 1941 when Japanese torpedo planes attacked Pearl Harbor.
“They got hit so bad it capsized immediately. There were 429 men on the ship,” Dale said.
Fireman first class Andrew Schmitz was among the dead. His remains were never identified, and five thousand miles away in Richmond, the sailor's family was crushed.
“My grandmother never, ever recovered from it,” Dale said. “She wouldn’t say a thing.”
Six Schmitz brothers served in the military during WWII.
“They all came home except Andrew,” Dale said.
In 2015, forensics experts began testing the remains of the Oklahoma's crew buried in Hawaii. Using DNA from Anne Marie's grandfather, who was Andrew's youngest sibling, investigators make a positive match.
“There aren’t really words. It’s a blessing that after 78 years they were able to find his remains,” Anne Marie said,
Andrew Schmitz is finally returning to Richmond. It is a homecoming nearly 80 years in the making.
“Long overdue,” Dale said. “I think it is just marvelous that the people today want to honor those killed in Pearl Harbor.”
Andrew will be buried with full military honors at Virginia Veterans Cemetery at Amelia.
“I’m glad he’s back here. I really am,” Dale said. “I’ll do pretty good now. Not sure about the day of the funeral. We’ll see. Just wait and see.”
Dale and Anne Marie only wish Andrew's mother could could witness it.
“She’d be so happy. She’d be doing exactly what I’m doing ringing her hands,” says Dale.
Still, these cousins take comfort knowing that Andrew played a part in their meeting. Out of heartbreaking loss a blossoming relationship is born.
“We’ve used this tragedy and used it for something happy,” says Anne Marie. “Its going to be quite the turnout I have a feeling. I think so. I think he would be glad that he was responsible for reuniting a family. Exactly. I do.”
If you know of someone I should feature in my “Heroes Among Us” email me at Heroes@wtvr.com