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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 2, 2010

In death, brothers will reunite at battle site

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By William Cole

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Sam Palanza

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Tony Palanza

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Tony Palanza was the "kid brother," the 17-year-old son of Italian immigrants and the youngest of four Palanza boys who all volunteered for duty during World War II.

The sailor was declared missing after the destroyer he was on, the USS Mullany, was hit by a Japanese kamikaze plane off Okinawa in 1945.

Sam Palanza was the oldest. There also were two girls in the family.

Service on separate ships and the next 65 years kept Sam and Tony Palanza apart, but in death, Sam is on his way back to be with his little brother.

The Navy's Joint Patient Liaison Office at Tripler Army Medical Center arranges burials at sea for service members, and reuniting Sam and Tony Palanza at the site of the Okinawa sea battle is one of its tasks.

"Sam was always the kind of guy who wanted to take care of us the younger brothers and sisters," said B.J. Palanza, 85, one of two remaining brothers. "He was that kind of guy. So he felt that if his ashes could be where Tony is, I guess he felt he would be taking care of Tony."

Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Amy Tucker coordinates the Navy's program at Tripler to arrange burials at sea.

The ashes of about 80 service members a year are spread at sea by surface ships and submarines out of Pearl Harbor, Tucker said.

The burials are arranged out of Hawai'i; San Diego; Norfolk, Va.; Bremerton, Wash.; and Mayport, Fla., she said. In San Diego, where there are more ships than in Pearl Harbor, there are usually 100 sets of remains passing through for sea-based burial at any given time, Tucker said.

A former service member needs to have had an honorable discharge for burial at sea, she said. All branches of service are eligible.

Most of the time, a veteran's family just wants a relative's ashes spread at sea a specific location isn't requested, Tucker said.

Sam Palanza died on March 2 in Maine at the age of 89.

B.J. Palanza, a part-time Kailua resident who grew up in Maine, asked the Navy's Joint Patient Liaison Office if his brother Sam's ashes could be buried at sea off Okinawa, where young-est brother Tony was killed in 1945.

In April 1945, 17-year-old Tony Palanza was on the destroyer Mullany off Okinawa.

As Japanese planes attacked, a crew member recalled, a fighter plummeted toward the U.S. ship with a 500-pound bomb under its left wing, according to the www.ussmullany.org website.

The Japanese aircraft crashed into the aft deck house at 300 miles per hour with a shattering explosion that rocked the Mullany, according to the account.

Depth charges detonated in the intense heat.

In all, 21 men died, nine were missing, and another 36 were wounded, according to the Mullany website.

An order was given to abandon ship, but the Mullany didn't sink and was later repaired.

Tony Palanza was never found.

Tucker, the coordinator in Hawai'i for burials at sea, said the Navy tries to accommodate requests such as those made for Sam Palanza's ashes.

"We're going to have to ensure that the ship that takes his remains is going to that area," she said.

Navy ships can't deviate from their mission course, but B.J. Palanza said he has given the Navy the coordinates of the sea battle site "and they said, 'No, problem,' they could do it," he said.

An honor guard usually stands watch over burials at sea.

Tucker said the Navy sends back to families the shell casings from a rifle salute and a chart showing where the ashes were scattered.

B.J. Palanza served in the Army. His three brothers were in the Navy.

"I cannot tell you how happy I am that they (the Navy) are doing this," B.J. Palanza said. "It means everything to me."