IGO, California -- Seventeen-year-old Thomas Rudolph Miller enlisted in the U.S. Navy only days after the Pearl Harbor attack.
But Miller, an Arkansas native who later moved to Phoenix, Arizona, with his family, never saw his 18th birthday.
He was killed May 8, 1942, when his ship, the USS Neosho, an oiler, was attacked and sunk during the Battle of the Coral Sea in the South Pacific. Miller was forced to abandon ship in a life raft with 67 other shipmates.
Only four of those men survived the ordeal and Miller's body was never recovered.
Now, nearly 74 years later, a headstone was placed at the Northern California Veterans Cemetery and a memorial service with military honors was held there Monday to honor him on what would have been his 91st birthday.
"I feel like a justice has been done," Redding's Jim Wilson, Miller's 58-year-old nephew and only surviving relative, said as he gazed at his uncle's headstone.
Wilson, who never knew his uncle and has no photographs of him, said he heard a few stories about him while growing up.
"They always said I looked like him," he said.
But, he said, he never asked many questions about him because his heartbroken grandmother found it too painful to talk about her young son and his death.
"She would start crying when she spoke of him," he said.
Wilson, who has lived in Redding on and off for most of his life, started his quest to honor his late uncle this past summer after researching his family's history and discovering that no service had been held or a monument erected to honor him after he had been lost at sea.
"I realized he was never buried," he said.
He wanted to try to correct that, he said.
Wilson, aided by cemetery officials and others with the Department of Veterans Affairs, said he was amazed that it all went so smoothly.
"It didn't take long at all," he said, praising cemetery officials for their help and kindness.
But, Wilson said, the headstone will have to be replaced with another one that lists the date the Navy officially declared him dead, in 1943. The current stone says Miller died in 1942, but Navy regulations say the headstone must give the military's official date of death instead.
Monday's memorial service included a ceremonial urn, a military rifle salute, Navy honor guard and the presentation of the U.S. flag. It also saw members of a Northern California chapter of a submariner's Cuttlefish group, called a base, recite the poem "The Watch" as members of the Patriot Guard and others lined the chapel-like building with flags to show their support.
Wilson said the ceremony was an emotional one for him.
"I was thinking of my grandmother the whole time," he said.