77 Years After Pearl Harbor, Alumnus Finds His Rightful Resting Place

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77 Years After Pearl Harbor, Alumnus Finds His Rightful Resting Place

Harry Gaver Jr., who starred in lacrosse and tennis and was active in many organizations on Grounds, will be laid to rest July 24 at Arlington National Cemetery, thanks to DNA analysis.

Harry is coming home.

Harry Gaver Jr., a 1939 University of Virginia alumnus and second lieutenant in the Marines who died aboard the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor in 1941, is set to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on July 24.

It’s something his family members, who refer to him simply as “Harry,” never dreamed possible.

In the chaotic days after the surprise Japanese attack on the Pacific fleet, Gaver’s remains were believed to have been buried in a mass gravesite at Honolulu’s Punch Bowl Cemetery.

But about three years ago, Jacquelin Burris, Gaver’s cousin, received a letter from the Navy asking her if she would like to – using DNA technology – try and find out for sure.

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Gaver was captain of the 1939 lacrosse team. (Image: Corks and Curls)
Gaver was captain of the 1939 lacrosse team. (Image: Corks and Curls)

Burris and her family decided to give it a shot, and shortly thereafter submitted a DNA sample, through a kit they received in the mail.

“We weren’t sure if anything was going to come of it,” said Robert Burris, Jacquelin’s son.

But about six months later, in January 2017, they were notified that scientists from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System had identified his remains.

“I was shocked,” Jacquelin Burris said.

Ditto for the rest of the family.

“When I tell the story, people don’t believe me,” Robert Burris said. “We tell people we’re going to bury a relative at Arlington and they’re like, ‘Oh no,’ thinking this had happened recently. It’s like, ‘No, this happened 77 years ago at Pearl Harbor.’

“It’s an amazing story. It really is.”

Part of the Marine detachment aboard the Oklahoma, Gaver was one of 429 crewmen onboard who died after the ship sustained multiple torpedo hits by Japanese aircraft.

Over the years, Harry’s life – and time at UVA – has become something of family folklore.

At UVA, Harry was on the lacrosse, tennis and cheerleading teams, and was also a member of Kappa Sigma Zeta fraternity, the German Club and “Thirteen Society” before graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1939.

“I don’t know how he possibly fit everything in his schedule,” Robert Burris said with a laugh.

Jacquelin Burris spent time with Harry when she was a very young girl.

“I knew him more than I can probably remember,” chuckled the 84-year-old, who lives in California.

The one thing she remembers quite well was how good-looking her great uncle was. “I think the girls really liked him,” she said.

Harry was born in Annapolis, Maryland. His father, who was also a UVA alumnus, taught math at the U.S. Naval Academy and later served as the headmaster at the Black-Foxe Military Institute in Los Angeles, a private school whose alumni included actors Gene Wilder, Larry Hagman, Robert Wagner, Alan Hale Jr. and a host of other big names from Hollywood.

Gaver, fourth from right on the second row, was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, pictured here in 1939. (Image: Corks and Curls)
Gaver, fourth from right on the second row, was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, pictured here in 1939. (Image: Corks and Curls)

Harry himself attended Black-Foxe prior to arriving at UVA in 1935.

As captain of the lacrosse team, he led UVA to a season-ending victory over Duke University in 1939 that won the Cavaliers a Southern League Conference championship.

“He was a pretty small guy, but very athletic,” Robert Burris said. “He was super-dedicated and feisty and loyal. He was able to accomplish a lot, even though he wasn’t very big.”

For many years, the UVA lacrosse program has annually presented the Harry Gaver Award for Leadership to a current player in his honor. Ryan Lukacovic and Chase Campbell were the recipients in 2017 and 2018, respectively. (The 2019 winner will be announced in the fall.) Previous winners include Steele Stanwick, Owen Van Arsdale and Tucker Radebaugh.

“For me, it had just been an award – until I learned who Harry Gaver was, what he had done at the University and that he had died in the attack on Pearl Harbor,” said UVA men’s lacrosse head coach Lars Tiffany.

Tiffany will be at the Arlington service with Ryan Pride, a third-year player who, similar to Gaver, is involved in numerous activities and organizations.

UVA men's lacrosse head coach Lars Tiffany and player Ryan Pride will attend Gaver's service in Arlington next week. (Contributed photos)
UVA men's lacrosse head coach Lars Tiffany and player Ryan Pride will attend Gaver's service in Arlington next week. (Photos: UVA Athletics)

“The opportunity to honor him is very impactful,” Tiffany said. “It will certainly resonate with our men and give us an even more tremendous sense of respect for the history of the UVA lacrosse program and the shoulders that we stand upon.

“He gave the ultimate sacrifice. … To be able to represent UVA and our lacrosse program is something that Ryan and I are jumping at – and humbled by.”

Shortly after being notified that Gaver’s remains had been identified, a Naval officer traveled to California to present the Burris family with his medals, including his Purple Heart.

“It was a really moving and exciting thing,” Robert Burris said.

The family then had to choose where he should be buried. They decided that since Harry had been raised in Annapolis and grew up primarily on the East Coast, that it would be appropriate to bury him at Arlington.

It took about a year to schedule the service – but now that day is nearly here. A group of about 20 family members will be in attendance.

“He has always been a really important part of our family,” said Robert Burris, who lives in California, “so this has been incredible.”

“I’m really looking forward to the service,” Jacquelin Burris added. “I think it will be really special.”

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Whitelaw Reid

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications