More than seven decades after Japanese torpedo bombers sunk the USS Oklahoma in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor, scientists have engaged in a new push to identify the victims.
The bones of hundreds of unidentified sailors and Marines who died on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941 are currently being tested by the government in order to appropriately entomb the fallen, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.
The discolored skeletal remains of the dead, newly exhumed from a cemetery in Hawaii, are undergoing DNA and other advanced examinations in a Nebraska Air Force base laboratory. It’s the same space once occupied by the airplane factory that built the B-29 that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, helping to end what Pearl Harbor had begun.
“We need to get these guys home."
- Carrie A. Brown
“A lot of people say: ‘World War II. Who’s even alive? Who even remembers?’” Carrie A. Brown told the Post. Brown is an anthropologist with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which is in charge of the identification initiative.
“We need to get these guys home,” she said. “They’ve been not home for too long.”
Kris Porto is hoping her twin uncles, Leo and Rudolph Blitz, are among those sent home for a proper burial.
“I find it fascinating. I would like to know,” Porto told Omaha.com.
Both men enlisted in the Navy in May 1938 and were assigned to the USS Oklahoma. Rudolph was making his way off of the sinking ship on Dec. 7, 1941 when he’s believed to have turned back to search for Leo, according to a sailor who was friends with the twins.
“We headed for topside, then I lost Rudolph,” Harry Hanson wrote in a letter to the Blitz family. “I figured he went to the forward dynamo, where Leo was. I never saw him again.”
The road by which Rudolph, Leo and the hundreds of other dead Americans may finally make their way home began in earnest in the months after the deadly sneak attack. It took more than a year, however, for the majority of the remains to be recovered.
Several problems plagued initial identification process, the Post reported. The water “co-mingled the remains in the ship itself,” DPAA forensic anthropologist Debra Prince Zinni said. Fuel oil had also inundated the bones.
And, during the first efforts in the late 1940s, the primary instrument available to scientists was a comparison of dental records.
During that analysis many complete skeletons were separated, and later pains to reassemble them were undertaken in vain. By 1950, the anonymous bones were reburied at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.
Then, one sailor was identified in 2003 when a casket containing at least 90 fragments of the killed was exhumed. Finally, the Department of Defense in April approved the massive task of identifying the rest of the estimated 388. The last of the exhumations occurred Nov. 9.
“It is a very large task,” Zinni told the Post. “But we definitely have the techniques and the personnel and the capacity to take this project on. And that’s why we’re doing it now.”