DOD identifies most remains of those killed on USS Oklahoma

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has identified most of those killed on the USS Oklahoma when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941.

Between June and November 2015, personnel from DPAA exhumed the unidentified crew members from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific for anthropological analysis. Of the 429 killed, 394 had been buried as unknown persons. As of Sept. 15, 2021, 346 had been identified.

The Nevada-class battleship USS Oklahoma was commissioned in 1916 and was the pride of the American fleet. The ship was notable for being the first American class of oil-burning dreadnaughts.

Transfer cases are prepared for an honorable carry ceremony held on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, June 24, 2021. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency hosted the two honorable carry ceremonies to return the remains and pay tribute to the 429 sailors and Marines lost aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. (Army photograph by Staff Sgt. Michael ONeal)

The vessel saw duty in World War I, protecting Allied convoys to Europe.

As fate would have it, the Oklahoma was moored at Ford Island Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked.

During the attack, several torpedoes from Japanese airplanes hit the Oklahoma’s hull, and the ship capsized. A total of 429 crew members died.

Survivors jumped off the ship into burning, oil-coated water or crawled across mooring lines that connected the Oklahoma and the battleship USS Maryland. 

Some of the sailors and Marines inside escaped when rescuers drilled holes and opened hatches to rescue them. 

From December 1941 to June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the crew; they were interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu cemeteries in Hawaii.

In a historic photo, the battleship USS Oklahoma, foreground, capsizes during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. The battleship USS Maryland is behind the Oklahoma; the battleship USS West Virginia is on the right. (National Archives photograph)

In September 1947, tasked with recovering and identifying fallen U.S. personnel in the Pacific Theater, members of the Army’s American Graves Registration Service disinterred the remains of U.S. dead from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. 

At that time, the laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identifications of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma. The AGRS buried the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. 

In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as not recoverable.

DPAA has been working to identify the remains since 2015 when the USS Oklahoma project began. Scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System have used mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA analysis.

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