DNA Helps Identify Victims of the Pearl Harbor Attack
July 8, 2016
USS Oklahoma Sailor Accounted for Decades Later
A total of 16 million Americans served in the military during the Second World War. Of these millions, 400,000 died and 79,000 of them remained unaccounted for. In the attack on Pearl Harbor alone, 2,335 heroes gave their lives in a single day. While the unidentified troops were listed as Killed In Action, their families were never given an actual body to bury at the time. Unable to differentiate between the many dead, the military set up a memorial at Pearl Harbor to honor the fallen soldiers. Today, DNA identification is finally making it possible to identify some of the soldiers who gave their lives.
Pearl Harbor Soldier Finally Accounted For
Through the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), another soldier has been officially identified. Navy Fire Controlman First Class Paul Nash was originally from Carlisle, Indiana. Like many military men, he was serving aboard the USS Oklahoma on December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan. The ship was moored off Ford Island when torpedo hits caused it to take on water. Before long, the ship capsized and 429 men died.
For the next three years, Navy personnel focused on recovering the remains of the crew members. Unable to identify each man, the bodies were buried at the Nu’uanu and Halawa Cemeteries. These bodies were later disinterred by the government and sent to the Central Identification Laboratory. Thirty-five of the men were identified, but more remained unknown. A total of 46 men were reburied at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific where it was thought that their individual identities would remain forever unknown.
Thanks to the new DNA identification program at DPAA, Nash’s remains were matched through laboratory analysis. His niece’s mitochondrial DNA was matched to his, and dental records matched up as well. His remains have been identified, and he was buried under his own name in Sullivan, Indiana on July 9, 2016.
Earlier in the summer, the DPAA announced that Navy Machinist Mate First Class Alfred Wells was identified. He also served on the USS Oklahoma. Since the identification, Wells was reburied in his hometown of Syracuse, New York, on June 11, 2016. Just a day before, Navy Ensign Joseph Hittorff’s remains were identified. Born in Collingswood, New Jersey, 25-year-old Hittorff was serving on the Oklahoma when she was attacked. His family was finally able to bury his body with full military honors in Connecticut on June 18.
Remembering the Fallen
While many of the fallen soldiers are now being identified, there are still thousands of families who are unable to bury their loved ones.
During a comprehensive Pearl Harbor tour, visitors can learn about the many men and women, living and dead, who fought in World War II. Tours typically start at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, where historical exhibits provide information about the attack.
From there, the next point of interest is the USS Arizona Memorial. This part of the Pearl Harbor tour includes a 23-minute film about the attack, including actual footage taken by Japanese pilots. Afterward, Navy shuttle boats take visitors to see the Arizona Memorial, built directly over the sunken battleship. Decades after the attack, she still leaks oil, known as the Black Tears of the Arizona. Many of the sailors who survived the attack are now buried in the Arizona. In 1982, the United States Navy began to let survivors of the attack rejoin their fellow servicemen following their death. These veterans are cremated and placed in special water-tight urns, which are then placed by Navy divers under the gun turrets on the Arizona. Since 1982, 30 crewmen have chosen to have this as their final resting place.
Other points of interest at Pearl Harbor include the Bowfin Submarine Museum and the Battleship Missouri. Unlike the Arizona, Missouri is above water so visitors can see how the sailors lived and worked. Many tours also include stops at the Pacific Aviation Museum and the USS Oklahoma Memorial, both of which are located on Ford Island.