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Mission to name Pearl Harbour's unknown victims

Published 28/07/2015

The exhumed remains of unidentified crew members of the USS Oklahoma are transported to a laboratory (AP)
The exhumed remains of unidentified crew members of the USS Oklahoma are transported to a laboratory (AP)

Coffins containing unidentified remains of USS Oklahoma crew members killed at Pearl Harbour have been exhumed in a technological-age effort to identify up to 388 sailors and marines still classified as missing .

The Defence PoW/MIA Accounting Agency disinterred five coffins from four grave sites at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, where they have rested for 65 years.

The cemetery and the military later allowed the media to observe a ceremony during which flags were draped over the coffins. An honour guard and cemetery staff transported them to trucks that carried the remains to a laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbour-Hickam.

Michael Linnington, a retired lieutenant general who currently leads the PoW/MIA agency, said the Hawaii lab would identify some remains using dental records. The remains will then be sent to another lab in Omaha for DNA analysis.

He said family members were eager to have their fathers, grandfathers and uncles identified.

"They want their loved ones home, and we're happy to help them in that process," Lt Gen Linnington said.

The Oklahoma identification project involves disinterring 61 coffins at 45 grave sites at the Honolulu cemetery commonly known as Punchbowl. About 15 have been exhumed.

The Oklahoma capsized after being hit by torpedoes during the Japanese attack on December 7 1941. Altogether, 429 sailors and marines on board were killed, but only 35 were identified in the years immediately after.

Hundreds were buried as unknowns at cemeteries in Hawaii and in 1950 they were reburied as unknowns at Punchbowl.

The military is now acting, more than 70 years after the men died, because advances in forensic science and technology as well as genealogical help from family members have made it possible to identify more remains.

The agency expects to identify about 80% of Oklahoma crew members now considered missing. It expects the work will take about five years.

Some of the analysis will conducted at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

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