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Identifying Those Who Sank on the USS Oklahoma

Identifying Those Who Sank on USS OklahomaThe USS Oklahoma was sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. A total of 429 men died when the ship capsized. The remains were recovered in 1943, but identification proved to be impossible at the time. Today, there is an effort being made to re-examine the bones and identify the those who sank on the USS Oklahoma.

The USS Oklahoma as on Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. That morning, Japan attacked the United States by surprise, using dive-bombers, fighter-bombers, and torpedo planes. Ten minutes after the battle began, the USS Oklahoma was hit by eight torpedoes, which caused her to capsize. A total of 14 Marines and 415 sailors died as a result.

In March of 1943, what was left of the USS Oklahoma was re-floated. Its guns were removed. The USS Oklahoma was decommissioned in 1944 and sold for scrap.

The months long salvage operation enabled people to find the remains of those who died on the ship. Their bodies had been reduced to skeletons. The bones had been jumbled and were saturated with fuel oil from the ship. The bones were buried as “unknowns” in two Hawaiian cemeteries, in 1944.

Three years later, the bones were exhumed and moved to a military laboratory near Pearl Harbor. The purpose was to attempt to identify the remains. At the time, the best tool for identification was dental records. Unfortunately, only tentative identification could be made from those records, and it wasn’t enough.

The laboratory believed the bones would end up in a mass reburial. They arranged the bones in groups, skulls in one casket, leg bones in another, and so on. The military required the laboratory to reassemble the skeletons. This was an impossible task. In 1949, the remains were officially declared to be unidentifiable. In 1950, the remains were reburied in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.

Recently, the Defense Department allowed the bones to be exhumed for another attempt at identification. It is estimated that there are about 388 individuals who need to be identified. Today, investigators are able to gather DNA samples from living relatives and compare them to the DNA from the bones. The fuel oil the bones had been soaked in inhibited the growth of bacteria and made DNA extraction more successful.

According to Stars and Stripes, five men had been identified as of January 11, 2016:
* Chief Petty Officer Albert E Hayden, 44, of Mechanicsville, Maryland
* Ensign Lewis S. Stockdale, 27, of Anaconda, Montana
* Seaman 2nd Class Dale F. Pearce, 21, of Labette County, Kansas
* Petty Officer 1st Class Vernon T. Luke, 43, of Green Bay Wisconsin
* Chief Petty Officer Duff Gordon, 52, of Hudson, Wisconsin.

Image by Wesley Fryer on Flickr.

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