Joliet sailor killed at Pearl Harbor finally will be laid to rest
George Sternisha talks about his uncle, Fireman First Class Michael Galajdik, who was killed aboard the USS Oklahoma in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Department of Defense began an effort to locate and identify his remains. (Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)
More than 75 years after Michael Galajdik was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor, the sailor from Joliet will reach his final resting place in the southwest suburbs.
Galajdik, a Navy Fireman 1st Class, will be interred Saturday at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood. He was 25 when he was killed while aboard the USS Oklahoma during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack by the Japanese military that thrust the United States into World War II.
Crest Hill resident George Sternisha is escorting his uncle’s body from Hawaii and is expected to arrive Friday in preparation for the Saturday funeral services in Joliet.
It is a ceremony that has been years in the making.
"This was my mother’s wish," Sternisha said Thursday from Hawaii. "I’m glad that I’m able to fulfill it."
His mother, Anna, had longed to bury her brother, but Navy officials could not positively identify his remains before she died in 1993. The first glimmer of hope that Sternisha’s mother’s wish would be fulfilled came in 2011, when Navy officials alerted Sternisha of their efforts to use DNA to identify the remains of 388 military personnel — including 18 from Illinois — killed at Pearl Harbor. Using DNA and dental records, the Navy in February finally was able to identify Galajdik’s remains.
"I’m feeling closure," said Sternisha, a Marine with a Purple Heart from service in Vietnam. "It’s been a long journey for me and my family."
A family picture of Fireman First Class Michael Galajdik provided by George Sternisha of Crest Hill on Dec. 5, 2016. Fireman First Class Michael Galajdik is among the servicemen whose remains the department is trying to locate and identify. The Department of Defense began an effort to identify the remains of sailors and Marines who were killed aboard the USS Oklahoma in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Joliet resident Ginger Schauer Dudek took to social media Wednesday asking people to honor Galajdik by lining the processional route from the funeral home to the church. By Thursday, her request had been shared more than 100 times and prompted calls from people who want to participate, she said.
"If it was my family, I would want a decent burial and nice closure," Dudek said. "You’d hate for the funeral procession going by with no one knowing who actually is there and what part he played in history."
She asked those who want to honor Galajdik to bring signs or flags and line the route along Plainfield Road in Joliet between Tezak Funeral Home and the Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus from 10:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday.
"It’s amazing that they would come out and show respect, support and honor," Sternisha said Thursday upon learning of the efforts to line the procession route and support his uncle.
Visitation at Tezak Funeral Home, 1211 Plainfield Road in Joliet, is scheduled from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday. The procession from the funeral home will conclude at Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus, 604 N. Raynor Ave. in Joliet, where a mass of Christian burial is scheduled for 11 a.m. Interment will follow at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, 20953 W. Hoff Road in Elwood, and will include full military honors.
Alicia Fabbre is a freelance reporter.