The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced the 300th identification of a previously unaccounted-for service member from the USS Oklahoma was made at the DPAA Laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska on Jan. 28.
Marine Pfc. John F. Middleswart was the milestone identification for an effort that began 18 years earlier in 2003, but has seen the majority of its work in the past five and a half years with the USS Oklahoma Project.
“When his identification came through, it was really exciting because I knew this was number 300,” said Carrie LeGarde, the USS Oklahoma Project lead. “It shows everyone’s hard work and I knew everyone would be really excited about it, because this is a really huge milestone for the project.”
Hattie Johnson, the head of the Repatriation branch of the Marine Corps Casualty Office, said her office was also excited, but that they were not the only ones.
“When I notified the nephew, who is 80 years old, he was not only excited that his uncle had been identified, he was also excited that he was the 300th service member of 429 unaccounted-for Sailors and Marines to be identified,” said Johnson. “He stated that his mother, he, and his brother provided DNA in 2009 to assist in the identification of his uncle if remains were recovered, although he was skeptical that an identification would happen in his lifetime. His mother always hoped that her brother would be recovered and identified. She passed away in 2015 at 98 years old. The Marine Corps is very excited and looking forward to working with the family to bring Pfc. Middleswart home!”
In 2015, Department of Defense officials approved the phased disinterment of all the USS Oklahoma caskets from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, where 394 unidentified Sailors and Marines had been buried as Unknowns since being consolidated there from other Hawaiian cemeteries in the 1950s. Since then, only six USS Oklahoma crewmen had been accounted for, leaving 388 left to identify.
On November 10, 2015, the last caskets were removed from the cemetery thanks to a partnership between DPAA, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of the Navy. All of the USS Oklahoma remains were transferred to the Offutt lab.
While this accomplishment signifies that the project will soon end, LeGarde said her team isn’t finished yet. She expects a conservative estimate of 42 more identifications will be made, but is pushing for more.
“I am very optimistic that we will hit 350,” she said. “We’re really shooting for that next milestone.”
For additional information on the USS Oklahoma Project or 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 find us on social media at www.facebook.com/dodpaa.