Tombstone Tuesday: The Lakin Brothers (R.I.P. December 7, 1941)

They may have joined the Navy a little over a year before that fateful day in December of 1941 to “see the world”.  President Roosevelt was vowing to keep America out of the growing European conflict, but in November 1940 two brothers, Donald Lapier Lakin and Joseph Jordan Lakin, Jr., enlisted in the Navy.

Donald and Joseph were both born in Kansas, the sons of Joseph and Blanche Lakin.  Donald was born on June 7, 1917 and Joseph on October 17, 1919.  Joseph, Sr. was a Marine veteran of the Spanish-American War.  Born in Kansas, Joseph migrated back and forth between Doniphan County, Kansas and Ontario, California where he worked as a laborer or farmer.

The family was living back in Kansas in 1930 and Blanche passed away in 1935, buried in Doniphan County.  Mary, Joseph and Blanche’s daughter, had already married and was residing in San Diego County in 1940.  Joseph, Jr. was enumerated with his father in Ontario on April 26, 1940 and employed at a bowling alley.

The whereabouts of Donald is unknown, however, although newspaper accounts would later state the family had moved to California in 1937.  Nevertheless, Seaman First Class Donald L. Lakin and Seaman First Class Joseph J. Lakin enlisted in November and by December 31, 1940 were assigned to the USS Arizona.  The battleship had been transferred from California to Hawaii in April 1940 along with the rest of the Pacific fleet, but from October 1940 to January 1941 was overhauled at the Navy Yard in Bremerton, Washington.

Since the presence of the entire Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor was meant to deter the Japanese, the battleships regularly participated in training maneuvers.  The Arizona’s last training exercise was a nighttime drill conducted with the Nevada and Oklahoma on December 4.

The Japanese attack began without warning on the morning of December 7 at approximately 7:55.  Four bombs directly hit the Arizona but it was the last one at approximately 8:06 which was the deadliest.  A direct hit had been scored near the front of the ship where ammunition was stored.  Seven seconds after the hit the ammunition cache detonated and the Arizona exploded.

The explosion killed 1,177 sailors of the more than fifteen hundred assigned to the Arizona.  Brothers Donald and Joseph Lakin were among those who died that day, one set of brothers among several sets who died that day.  Donald was twenty-four years old and Joseph twenty-two.

Back home the news spread and as the days passed Joseph Lakin, along with other Ontario families, anxiously awaited word on the fate of his sons.  By the time he received official word on December 16, the United States had rapidly entered the war by first declaring war on Japan, and later Axis partners Germany and Italy.

Joseph, grief-stricken, left Ontario for Vista in San Diego County, the home of his daughter Mary and her husband Temple Smith.  It appears that Joseph had re-married at some point, but it is unclear whether he was married in December of 1941.  Records show that he and Beulah Lakin were granted a divorce on April 14, 1943.  She had filed for divorce, sadly, on the grounds of cruelty in March of that year.

On April 25, 1942 Ontario held its first “town hall” program to discuss the war and the city’s reaction.  Ontario had been chosen as one of five cities across the country as “municipal guinea pigs” to revive the old-fashioned town hall system, first made popular in New England during the early days of colonial America.  Joseph, along with other parents who had lost sons that day, were introduced,  “an impressive feature” of that first meeting.1

Earlier that month the Ontario city council had proposed naming the new municipal airport in honor of the Lakin brothers.  While the councilmen thought in fitting to honor the first young men of their community to die in the war, it doesn’t appear that any official renaming ever took place.

Just the day before the town hall meeting sixty-year-old Joseph J. Lakin had registered for the draft, although he never served.  Donald and Joseph, Jr. were awarded Purple Hearts posthumously for “military merit” in early January 1944.

Joseph Lakin retired from farming and was living with his nephew and niece in Ontario.  While on a brief vacation he passed away in Tucson on December 27, 1950.  The Ontario community still remembered his family’s sacrifice by noting first and foremost in his obituary that his sons Donald and Joseph, Jr. were killed on that fateful day.  Donald and Joseph are memorialized with gravestones at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.


NOTE:  Thursday will feature a “Time Capsule Thursday” article about what was happening in the world three days later on December 10, 1941.

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2015.


  1. San Bernardino County Sun, 26 Apr 1942, p. 19


  1. Time Capsule Thursday: December 10, 1941 | Digging History - […] Six days later the grievous news arrived.  See this week’s Tombstone Tuesday article here  for more on Joseph Lakin’s…

Leave a Comment