I have mixed feelings about this story, but it’s both a solemn and stirring moment all at the same time. The Department of Defense announced yesterday that the remains of hundreds of sailors and marines from the USS Oklahoma, sunk during the cowardly attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese more than half a century ago, will be exhumed and identified wherever possible and returned to their families. This is a delicate situation all the way around.
Remains of up to nearly 400 unaccounted for service members tied to the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor will be exhumed this year, the Defense Department announced Tuesday.
The hope is that most of the battleship’s sailors and Marines can be identified.
“The secretary of defense and I will work tirelessly to ensure your loved one’s remains will be recovered, identified, and returned to you as expeditiously as possible, and we will do so with dignity, respect and care,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work said in a statement. “While not all families will receive an individual identification, we will strive to provide resolution to as many families as possible.”
The vast majority of the fallen heroes are buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. I would begin by saying that the families always, always, always have first priority in these matters, as they should. I’m not sure exactly how many of the families were really pushing for this actively, but no doubt they will be grateful. Given the current state of DNA technology, there should be a decent chance that many of the remains will be identified if they have any living relatives today who are willing to participate in the process.
My only reservations about the process when I first heard of this involved the fact that Memorial Cemetery is such a national treasure and landmark from the war. The original inability to identify all the fallen was tragic to be sure, but over the decades it seems as if the place has become something of a shrine, akin to the Tomb of the Unknowns. But even if each and every service member is identified and removed to their home towns, there will still be many other graves at the Cemetery, so there really isn’t a downside to this.
This should bring some long overdue peace and closure to some of the families and offer them the opportunity to see their loved ones honored before a new generation in the manner they deserve. May they rest in peace.