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Around The Fleet

Unknown No More

First four burials for USS Oklahoma former unknowns

Dozens of men killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor are one step closer to finally going home. The first four caskets of the USS Oklahoma unknowns have been laid to rest.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the USS Oklahoma sank when it was hit by torpedoes, during the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor. A total of 429 sailors and Marines were killed. In the years immediately following the attacks, 35 crew members were positively identified and buried.

From June 1942 to May 1944, during salvage operations, the remaining service members' remains were removed from the ship and initially interred as unknowns, in Nuuanu and Halawa cemeteries in Hawaii. In 1947 all remains in those cemeteries were disinterred for attempted identification. Twenty-seven unknowns from the USS Oklahoma were proposed for identification based on dental comparisons, but all proposed identifications were disapproved.

By 1950, all unidentified remains associated with the ship were re-interred as unknowns at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, commonly known as the Punchbowl.

In 2003, the DoD laboratory in Hawaii, disinterred one casket containing USS Oklahoma remains based on historical evidence provided by Ray Emory, a Pearl Harbor survivor. The evidence helped establish the identification of five servicemen. However, the casket contained the remains of up to 100 men who had not yet been identified.

Until recently, more than 60 headstones at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific have been marked by the word Unknown. However, one by one the Department of Defense is hoping to identify these men and properly lay them to rest.

The remains of the unaccounted for USS Oklahoma Sailors and Marines are now being exhumed. Upon disinterment, the remains are transferred to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) laboratory in Hawaii for examination. Analysis of all available evidence indicates that most USS Oklahoma crew members can be identified upon disinterment.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work approved the disinterment of unknowns associated with the USS Oklahoma.

  • Navy Photo

  • Navy Photo

  • Navy Photo

  • Navy Photo

"The secretary of defense and I will work tirelessly to ensure your loved one's remains will be recovered, identified, and returned to you as expeditiously as possible, and we will do so with dignity, respect and care," said Work. "While not all families will receive an individual identification, we will strive to provide resolution to as many families as possible."

The disinterment policy applies to all unidentified remains from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and other permanent American military cemeteries. However, this policy does not extend to those sailor and Marines lost at sea or to remains entombed in U.S. Navy vessels serving as national memorials.

The threshold criteria includes research, family reference samples to compare DNA, obtaining medical and dental records of the missing service members, and having the scientific ability and capacity to identify the remains in a timely manner. To disinter cases of commingled remains, the department must estimate the ability to identify at least 60 percent of the individuals associated with a group. A likelihood of at least 50 percent identification must be attained for individual unknowns.

"The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is prepared to begin this solemn undertaking in concert with ongoing worldwide recovery missions. Personally, I am most privileged to be part of this honorable mission, and I very much appreciate the efforts of many people who saw this revised disinterment policy come to fruition," said Rear Adm. Mike Franken, DPAA acting director.