The Department of Defense (DoD) announced today that the remains of up to 388 unaccounted for sailors and Marines, associated with the USS Oklahoma, will be exhumed later this year. Upon disinterment, the remains will be 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 and also established a broader DoD policy, which defines threshold criteria for disinterment of unknowns.
“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.
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 have not yet been identified.
Analysis of remains will begin immediately after their arrival into the DPAA laboratory and will utilize current forensic tools and techniques, to include DNA testing. Service members who are identified will be returned to their families for burial with full military honors.
Navy and Marine Corps casualty offices began notifying the next-of-kin this morning.
For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for Americans, who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website at www.dpaa.mil or call 703-699-1169.