How remains of personnel killed in Pearl Harbor are identified decades later

National News

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

OAHU, Hi. (NEXSTAR) – On the day that will live in infamy – December 7, 1941 – 2,403 U.S. personnel were killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Eighty years later, many of those killed are finally returning home and being laid to rest.

Among those killed were over 1,700 aboard the USS Arizona, 103 aboard the USS California, and nearly 430 aboard the USS Oklahoma. Following the attack, many of those killed were unable to be recovered from the ships they were aboard. Others could not be identified but were laid to rest in Hawaii. That changed decades after the attack as the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) has been working to identify those killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Department of Defense relies on DNA to identify remains, either by supporting the anthropology and archaeological analysis of recovered skeletal remains or as the primary means of identification. If the DOD lacks a reference sample from the missing individual, they can use samples from family members.

Once family members have submitted their DNA, the DOD uses this chart to determine which type of donor the individual could be. There are some relatives whose DNA cannot be used for MtDNA or nuclear DNA analysis, such as a soldier’s niece on their brother’s side, their paternal aunt, or their maternal grandfather.

Chart to determine eligible donors to identify remains of service members. (Department of Defense)

On December 2, DPAA announced 33 sailors from the USS Oklahoma were accounted for in late 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-day identification efforts, like DNA, 396 of the 429 sailors and Marines killed aboard the USS Oklahoma have been identified. According to DPAA, laboratory analysis and circumstantial evidence have established the remains unable to be matched with 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: Pearl Harbor attack

Among those identified using DNA analysis was Navy Fireman 3rd Class William L. Barnett, who was 21-years-old when he was killed aboard the battleship USS West Virginia during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was one of 106 killed when the ship was hit by multiple torpedoes. A DPAA factsheet shows 79 remains from the USS West Virginia have been positively identified while the rest remain unknown.

During the attack, 103 crew members of the USS California died. Of those, the DPAA reports 42 were buried as known remains and another 40 were positively identified during laboratory analysis. There are as many as 25 burials of unknown remains possibly associated with the USS California, meaning crew members from other ships in the area likely died aboard the USS California.

Remains of one sailor from the USS Arizona, 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 struck by over a half dozen aerial bombs, causing an explosion and a fire that burned for two days, 1,777 crewmen were killed. The majority of those have never been recovered from the wreckage. According to DPAA, their remains are entombed in the USS Arizona Memorial.

As of December 1, 2021, DPAA reports more than 81,600 Americans remain missing from WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Gulf Wars or other conflicts. Of those, over 41,000 are presumed lost at sea in events such as ship losses and known aircraft water losses. To view a full list of those still missing, click here.

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