More unidentified USS Oklahoma crew members killed in the 1941 Pearl Harbor bombing were exhumed yesterday, as the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency disinterred five coffins from four gravesites at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, where they've rested for decades. Flags were draped over the coffins, which were transported to a lab at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The work is part of an effort announced in April to account for up to 388 Oklahoma sailors and Marines classified as missing. The project involves disinterring 61 caskets at 45 gravesites at the Honolulu cemetery known as Punchbowl. Altogether, 429 sailors and Marines on the Oklahoma were killed; only 35 were identified in the years right after.
Hundreds were buried as unknowns in Hawaiian cemeteries, and in 1950, they were reburied as unknowns at Punchbowl. The military is acting now because forensic and technological advances, as well as genealogical help from family, have made it possible to identify more remains. The agency expects to identify about 80% of Oklahoma crew members now and expects the work will take about five years. A retired Army lieutenant general who leads the agency says the lab in Hawaii will identify some remains using dental records; the remains will then be sent to another lab in Omaha for DNA analysis. Family members "want their loved ones home, and we're happy to help them in that process," he says. (Read more Pearl Harbor stories.)