Pearl Harbor Sailor from Georgia to be Buried in Arlington National Cemetery

Staff Report

Monday, January 30th, 2023

How many Sailors have been identified from the USS Oklahoma disinterment? 

Prior to the 2015 disinterment, which marked the beginning of Project Oklahoma, 388 service members were unaccounted for. Since then, 355 have been individually identified. 

Who makes identifications, and how? 

Scientists at Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) labs in Joint Base Pearl Harbor- Hickam, Hawaii, and Offutt Air Force Base, Omaha, Nebraska, identify past-conflict Sailors. Remains are identified using DNA reference samples from USS Oklahoma families; DoD now has more than 361 of required samples to support DNA analysis on Oklahoma remains as well as many medical and dental records from the Oklahoma service members. 

What is the basic identification process? 

The DNA profiling process begins with a sample of an individual’s DNA, typically called a “reference sample.” During Project Oklahoma, The Navy reached out to families via letters and phone calls requesting their participation in the Family Reference Sample Program in efforts to possibly make a positive match, and identify their loved one lost on the USS Oklahoma. 

What is the Navy’s policy concerning family notification? 

It is the policy of the Navy to notify the primary next of kin whenever there is a decision that impacts the remains of their family members. 

What is the Navy’s notification process? 

Once DPAA identifies a Sailor, the Navy Casualty Office makes the official notification to the Person Authorized to Direct Disposition (PADD). Following the notification a Navy Casualty case worker is assigned to the family to coordinate a formal briefing to discuss the identification, their wishes for disposition options. A Casualty Assistance Calls Officer (CACO) and Navy Casualty case worker conduct a Family visit/briefing with the family via various methods (Virtual, telephonically or in-person) and explain all entitlements, processes and assist with the final disposition of the remains. 

How are CACOs assigned? 

CACOs are assigned regionally, according to the location of the PADD.

How does the Navy support the fallen Sailors’ families? 

Following the family visit/briefing, it is the CACO’s responsibility to assist the family with burial coordination. The family is given the choice to either have the Sailor re-interred at NMCP, or choose an alternate location, such as a veterans’, private family site, or Arlington National Cemetery. Navy Mortuary, a branch within Navy Casualty, will coordinate the movement of remains, which typically arrive a couple days prior to the burial. 

What expenses does the Navy pay for? 

The Navy pays for funeral expenses, family travel and lodging for up to three blood family members to the Service member. All funding/entitlements are handled and processed by the Navy Casualty office. Entitlements include casket, remains transportation, funeral home expenses and cemetery expenses. The Navy provides full Funeral honors (rifle salute, burial team and TAPS) details. 

How can media get in touch with family members? 

The Navy respects family wishes in regards to privacy. Each family contacted is asked to fill out a media release form, indicating whether or not media contact is desired. If a positive response is given, the Navy Personnel Command Public Affairs Office will provide the requesting media outlet’s information to the family member designated as the point of contact. Media will not be given family contact information. 

Although it has been almost 80 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor, why do you believe it is important to identify the remains of these fallen heroes who lost their lives? 

Briefing Families, I often hear, “we did not believe he was dead”, “probably he was not onboard the ship”, “maybe one day he would walk through the door”. Being able to recover and identify the remains of Sailors aid in closure for the Families and it is especially important to the Navy to Honor these Sailors who paid the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives for our Country 

What does it mean to the families to finally have this closure and bring their loved one home? 

Most often the notification and identification briefing is emotional, overwhelming and relieving all at the same time for the Families. Most Families cannot believe their loved ones were recovered after so many years, they prayed or hoped to have closure someday. 

What can you tell me about the recent reinterment of Sailors in Hawaii? 

Dec. 7, 2021: In a ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP), the 33 Sailors who could not be identified by DNA were laid to rest with full military honors. In attendance were families of both unidentified and identified Sailors, as well as Hawaii Governor Ige, USS Oklahoma survivor David Russell, and members of both Navy and DPAA leadership. Presiding over the ceremony was the Honorable Carlos Del Toro, Secretary of the Navy.