The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) partnered with the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Honolulu to create a display case of World War II artifacts which was unveiled in a ceremony March 8.
The display will include a total of five items, four of them on loan from DPAA.
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial serves as a portal into the past, sharing the Pacific War story from its epic land, air, and sea battles to the long-lasting impacts of the war.
“We have nearly two million people that pass through the Pearl Harbor National Memorial,” said Scott Pawlowski, the Chief Curator of the Pearl Harbor National Museum. “So, it’s a wonderful platform to talk about how DPAA helps find closure for many of these Sailors and Soldiers that died in the Pacific War. It’s right down our ally as well as DPAA’s.”
DPAA and its predecessor organizations have been working to identify missing Department of Defense personnel for more than two decades.
“We (DPAA’s Laboratory) have a synoptic collection, which is just a collection of items that we have recovered or have been sent to us over the years that are from World War II, Korea, and the Vietnam conflict that are not evidentiary,” said Dr. Owen O’Leary, a supervisory archaeologist laboratory manager. “These items are not prohibitive to any missing individual. We keep these items in a collection as a sort of comparative collection. If you have a small piece of something, you can compare it to one of the things in this larger collection.”
Items from the synoptic collection have been used for outreach events such as conferences and educational conventions.
O’Leary emphasized that this opportunity for items from DPAA to be displayed at the Pearl Harbor National Museum was a great chance to get involved and share DPAA’s mission to provide the fullest possible accounting of our nation’s service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice. The DPAA exhibit will provide guests with a chance to learn more about our agency and the work being done.
In their search for items, O’Leary spoke of looking for items that were associated with the USS Oklahoma before branching out and using items that were from the Battle of Tarawa.
“After the Battle of Tarawa, a massive and very chaotic engagement that lasted three, four days, there was a lot of stuff left on the battlefield, stuff that guys dropped or had taken off when bodies were picked up,” said O’Leary. “If you’re trying to rescue your wounded buddy and his trenching tool gets hung up on something, you’re going to take that tool off so you can move your buddy better.”
The display will include four items from DPAA including a Marine Corps branch insignia, belt buckle, entrenching tool, and a canteen which still has its plastic lid. The canteen, after all these years, has shell and coral attached, forming a concrete covering. The fifth item is a watch found on the USS Oklahoma during a cell rescue and salvage operation after Dec. 7, 1941.
“The Oklahoma was a particularly horrendous set of casualties due to how quickly it happened and in the manner in which it happened,” said Pawlowski. “It is a project that DPAA has been working on since I’ve been here, and they have identified hundreds of unknowns from the Oklahoma and that’s pretty significant.”
This project does more than just display a few items from the past. It shows how we honor our service members.
Pawlowski spoke of how important this country feels about the men and women who have served in the armed forces.
“These remains that DPAA was working on are still a large part of their workflow,” Pawlowski said. “This is an old conflict and there have been more with similar issues since then. It really highlights the commitment we have as a country to our veterans and citizens.”
Rear Adm. Darius Banaji, DPAA’s Deputy Director for Operations, and Scott Burch, the NPS Superintendent, welcomed the newest exhibit with a maile lei, commemorating the unveiling of the DPAA display.
“Thank you, National Park Service, for your collaboration with our display case and the opportunity for the millions of yearly visitors to connect with DPAA’s mission and the noble efforts on behalf of our nation,” said Banaji.
To find out more about the National Pearl Harbor Memorial and Museum, visit www.nps.gov/perl.
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 find us on social media at www.facebook.com/dodpaa or https://www.linkedin.com/company/defense-pow-mia-accounting-agency.