Dec. 7 is National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and a time when the U.S. remembers and honors the 2,403 citizens who were killed in the attack.
For the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), the focus of Pearl Harbor Day is on the service members who are still unaccounted for from the attack. Over the past five years, the biggest effort to account for those service members has been the USS Oklahoma Project.
In 2003, there were 394 Sailors and Marines unaccounted for from the USS Oklahoma. The first of the USS Oklahoma Unknowns who had been buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu was disinterred that year. Between 2007 and 2010, six identifications occurred from this disinterment and an additional disinterment of a single Unknown. The project was officially launched in 2015 and the rest of the USS Oklahoma Unknowns were disinterred in the second half of that year. Since 2003, 281 Unknowns have been accounted for.
Earlier this year, the USS Oklahoma Project hit the major milestone of completing the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequencing of the more than 5,000 DNA samples given to the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System’s DNA lab for processing.
“This is huge for us because it allows us to complete our analyses of all of the USS Oklahoma remains, and therefore, identify as many service members as possible,” said Carrie LeGarde, the USS Oklahoma Project lead. “The Armed Forces Medical Examiner System’s DNA testing has been a really critical part, and so the family reference samples have been the other half of that critical component, because we need to be able to match the DNA to something. We’ve had pretty good success with getting family reference samples.”
Only 25 of the 113 still unaccounted for do not have family DNA reference samples on file. LeGarde said she hopes to be able to get those samples because the project is nearing its conclusion.
“Once we reach the point where we’ve decided we aren’t getting anymore family reference samples, we’ve analyzed all of the bones, and we’ve identified who we can at this point with the information we have, that will be the end, and that will be sometime in the near future,” LeGarde said.
She said the project won’t end without identifying as many Unknowns as possible, however.
“The recent push for additional family reference samples has allowed us to make identifications that would have otherwise been extremely difficult,” said LeGarde.
Those who have a family member unaccounted for from the USS Oklahoma or any of the other ships lost on Dec. 7, 1941, can contact the Navy Casualty Office at 800-443-9298 to find out if there is a family reference sample on file for their family. If there is not, Navy Casualty can help collect that sample.
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, find us on social media at www.facebook.com/dodpaa or call (703) 699-1420/1193.