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How the remains of personnel killed at Pearl Harbor are identified decades later

FILE – In this file photo from December 7, 2019, a U.S. Navy stands in front of the USS Missouri during a ceremony marking the 78th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Some veterans and government officials will gather in Missouri on Wednesday, September 2, 2020 in Hawaii to mark the 75th anniversary of the surrender. (AP Photo / Caleb Jones, file)

OAHU, Hi. (NEXSTAR) – The Day That Will Live In Infamy – December 7, 1941 – 2,403 American personnel were killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Eighty years later, many of those killed are finally returning home and resting.

Among those killed, there were more than 1,700 aboard the USS Arizona, 103 aboard the USS California and nearly 430 aboard the USS Oklahoma. After the attack, many of those killed could not be recovered from the ships they were on board. Others could not be identified but were buried in Hawaii. That changed decades after the attack, as the Defense POW / MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) struggled to identify those killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Department of Defense relies on DNA to identify the remains, either by supporting anthropology and archaeological analysis of recovered skeletal remains, or as the primary means of identification. If the DOD does not have a reference sample from the missing person, it can use samples from family members.

Once family members submit their DNA, the DOD uses this table to determine what type of donor the individual might be. There are some relatives whose DNA cannot be used for mtDNA or nuclear DNA analysis, such as a soldier’s niece on his brother’s side, his paternal aunt, or his grandfather. maternal.

On December 2, the DPAA announced that 33 sailors from the USS Oklahoma had been counted by the end of October 2021. Between June and November 2015, DPAA personnel exhumed the remains of the USS Oklahoma Unknowns from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, or the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.

Using historical and modern identification efforts, such as DNA, 396 of the 429 Sailors and Marines killed aboard the USS Oklahoma have been identified. According to the DPAA, laboratory analysis and circumstantial evidence established that the remains could not be compared to individual sailors. These remains – 33 in total – are designated as group remains, which will be buried at the Punchbowl on December 7, 2021, the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

SLIDESHOW: Attack on Pearl Harbor
  • How the remains of personnel killed at Pearl Harbor are identified decades later
  • How the remains of personnel killed at Pearl Harbor are identified decades later
  • How the remains of personnel killed at Pearl Harbor are identified decades later
  • How the remains of personnel killed at Pearl Harbor are identified decades later

Among those identified using the DNA analysis was Navy Firefighter 3rd Class William L. Barnett, who was 21 when he was killed aboard the battleship USS West Virginia in the attack. of Pearl Harbor. He was one of 106 killed when the ship was hit by multiple torpedoes. A DPAA fact sheet shows that 79 remains of the USS West Virginia have been positively identified while the others remain unknown.

During the attack, 103 USS California crew members died. Of these, 42 DPAA reports were buried as known remains and another 40 were positively identified during laboratory analysis. There are no less than 25 burials of unknown remains possibly associated with the USS California, which means that crew members from other ships in the area are likely to have died aboard the USS California.

The remains of a USS Arizona Sailor, Navy Radioman 2nd Class Floyd A. Wells, 24, of Cavalier, North Dakota, have been identified among the remains associated with another ship, the USS Oklahoma. After the USS Arizona was hit by more than half a dozen aerial bombs, causing an explosion and a fire that burned for two days, 1,777 crew members were killed. Most of them were never recovered from the wreckage. According to the DPAA, their remains are buried in the USS Arizona Memorial.

As of December 1, 2021, the DPAA reports that more than 81,600 Americans remain missing during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Gulf Wars or other conflicts. Of these, more than 41,000 are believed to be lost at sea in events such as ship losses and known aircraft water losses. To see the full list of those still missing, click here.


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