Fallen USS Oklahoma Twins Identified

August 13, 2019

On August 10, 2019, a pair of twin brothers who served and died aboard USS Oklahoma (BB-37) were laid to rest with military honors. The services were held, one after the other, to honor two fallen heroes of the Pearl Harbor attack whose remains had rested in mass graves for years after the war ended. USS Oklahoma twins Leo and Rudolph Blitz were finally given a proper burial in their hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Closure at Last

For more than seven decades, the Blitz family was left without closure. On December 7, 1941, during the horrifying events that launched the United States into World War II, Leo and Rudolph Blitz were killed aboard USS Oklahoma, which was moored along Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor. In the wake of the attack on the Oahu naval base, neither Leo's nor Rudolph’s remains could be recovered for a proper military burial. It was a reality their family had to live for many years. Betty Pitsch, Leo and Rudolph’s 93-year-old sister, lived for all those decades without knowing where her brothers’ remains were. Then, she received a call from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

As part of the DPAA’s program to exhume and identify the remains of the unidentified crew members of the sunken USS Oklahoma, DNA was submitted by Pitsch to try to positively ID her brothers. In May, 2019, the DPAA announced that an official match had been made, identifying the remains of both Leo and Rudolph after more than 75 years of being buried in mass graves.

The USS Oklahoma Twins at Pearl Harbor

USS Oklahoma capsized

USS Oklahoma capsized and sank on December 7, 1941

Leo and Rudolph Blitz were only 20 years old when the Imperial Japanese Navy launched its assault on the Pearl Harbor Naval Base. Both were serving aboard USS Oklahoma, a battleship that was hit by multiple torpedoes, capsized, and sank during the assault, killing 429 men.

Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Leo Blitz and Fireman 1st Class Rudolph Blitz enlisted together in the US Navy at 17 years old. Though they did so much together, the pair were not stationed near one another on the battleship, which, as a letter from one of their shipmates confirmed, played a part in their deaths. According to the letter, one brother refused to leave the ship when the order to evacuate was sounded. “I was with him and then he was gone. When they told us to evacuate, he said, ‘I’m not leaving without my brother,’” the letter recounted.

Neither brothers' remains were recovered from the wreckage of Oklahoma in a condition that made them identifiable. During the operations that followed in the weeks after the attack, their bodies were recovered and placed in mass graves along with other unidentifiable remains. It was the best that could be done in a time before DNA-matching technology.

The Outstanding Work of the DPAA

Seal of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

Seal of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

In 2015, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began the daunting task of trying to find living relatives of the hundreds of men whose remains had languished in mass graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Oahu's Punchbowl Crater. To date, they have been successful in finding matches for well over 200 fallen USS Oklahoma crewmen, bringing closure to scores of families after so many years.

Ed McLaughlin, Betty Pitsch’s grandson, spoke with the Lincoln Journal Star, stating, “This is a huge relief for grandma. For her to finally know that the twins can rest their souls and have their remains brought home, I know that’s really big for her.”

Rosettes will be placed next to the names of Leo and Rudolph Blitz in the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, to indicate that they've been identified.

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