At the July 5 meeting, the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders honored posthumously the two Ocean County veterans for their service.
“Ocean County is home to more veterans than any other county in New Jersey,” said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari. “We appreciate those who fought for our country and want to recognize them for their courage and sacrifice.”
First Class Machinist’s Mate Earl R. Melton was aboard the USS Oklahoma, one of the eight battleships moored at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor during the attack on Dec. 7, 1941. Melton died at 24 years old when numerous torpedoes capsized the Oklahoma, trapping much of the crew underwater and resulting in the deaths of 429 crewmembers.
The Oklahoma could not be removed and righted until 1943 because of the difficulty of the salvage effort. Melton’s remains were interred at a cemetery in Hawaii until 2015 when the Department of Defense ordered the disinterment and identification of the unknown sailors. Thanks to DNA samples given by his niece and four nephews, along with other evidence, his remains were finally identified more than 75 years later. Melton was buried on June 28, with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C.
George B. Watson Sr., a retired Army Air Corps Sergeant, was a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007, and the Purple Heart in 2010. He passed away at 96 years old on June 19.
Watson began his military career at Fort Dix and was handpicked to be among the recruits to help form the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. He served his country in the 96th service group, an all-black unit of specialists in the 332nd Fighter Airborne Group.
“His unit destroyed more than 260 enemy aircraft during World War II and never lost a bomber during the raids over enemy territory,” said Ocean County Freeholder Deputy Director Gerry P. Little, who serves as liaison to the Ocean County Veterans Services Bureau. “This was a feat no other fighter group had ever accomplished.”
Upon his return home, Watson served as an electrician at McGuire Air Force Base, was the first recruiter for the United States Army and Air Force and worked with the New Jersey Bell Telephone Company for 15 years.
“Both of these veterans are examples of the brave men and women of Ocean County who have served in the military with distinction,” Vicari said. “We honor the memories of George B. Watson Sr. and Earl R. Melton with gratitude and recognition for their courage, character, and service to their country and offer sincere condolences to their families.”