In a Nebraska Lab, an Effort to ID Pearl Harbor's Unknowns

429 lost their lives aboard the USS Oklahoma; most remain unidentified
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 7, 2015 4:22 PM CST
In a Nebraska Lab, an Effort to ID Pearl Harbor's Unknowns
In this Dec. 7, 1941 file photo, part of the hull of the capsized USS Oklahoma is seen at right as the battleship USS West Virginia, center, begins to sink after suffering heavy damage, while the USS Maryland, left, is still afloat in Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii.   (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, File)

"The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your son ... is missing following action in the performance of his duty." So read a telegram sent to the family of a young sailor aboard the USS Oklahoma, and likely hundreds more like it. Exactly 74 years ago today, the attack on Pearl Harbor killed 429 who were aboard, a casualty count second only to the USS Arizona. Nearly 400 of them were buried as unknowns and are classified as missing, and on today's anniversary, the Washington Post takes a look at where the nascent effort to identify them stands. In April the military announced it would exhume the remains from the Hawaii cemetery where they were buried after months entombed in the ship, their bodies no longer anything more than skeletons.

An unsuccessful effort to identify them in 1947 led to the skeletons being disassembled and the bones put in groups (ie, all the skulls together); two years later, they were officially deemed unidentifiable and complete skeletons were bundled as best they could be and reburied. Most of those remains, which were contained in 61 caskets exhumed between June 8 and Nov. 9, have since been transported to a lab at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. What's been found so far, per the Post: "One contained nothing but upper arm bones. One had five examples of the same specific neck vertebra, indicating that five people were represented, not one." The task is enormous, and could take years. But the work has already paid off: Seven of the 388 estimated unidentified men have, at long last, been identified. (More Pearl Harbor stories.)

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