Eighty years after he became a victim of the attack on Pearl Harbor, sailor Jesus Garcia of the USS Oklahoma has finally come home.
Thanks to what is known as the USS Oklahoma Project, remains of Garcia, as with many others who died that day, were identified in a long, painstaking process, according to Politico.
“It was a milestone accomplishment for the laboratory. We’ve identified over 90 percent of these individuals,” said John Byrd, director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii.
7:58 am — USS Oklahoma, moored outboard from USS Maryland, hit by several torpedoes. Oklahoma rolls over in 12 minutes. Oklahoma survivors climb aboard USS Maryland to help fight the ship. Japanese claimed her sunk; Maryland was back in action by June 1942
— The Spokesman-Review (@SpokesmanReview) December 5, 2021
The USS Oklahoma was sunk in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack, with about half of the 864 crew members trapped after it sunk. Garcia, a Mess Attendant 2nd Class, was among them. The ship was raised in 1942, with the remains of those aboard put in mass graves in Hawaii in 1943.
In 1947, efforts were made using dental records and dog tags to identify the disinterred remains of those who perished on the Oklahoma. Thirty-five identifications were made.
The remains of 391 other sailors were buried in 61 caskets in Hawaii’s National Military Cemetery of the Pacific.
Almost 60 years later, veteran Ray Emory, who was aboard the USS Honolulu that fateful day, persuaded the military to exhume one casket in hopes of identifying five sets of remains. DNA found that the casket had the remains of 94 men.
“That was when we really knew how commingled they would be and that if we wanted to do more identification, we would really need all of the remains from Oklahoma,” said Carrie LeGarde, the lead anthropologist overseeing the project in Omaha, Nebraska.
80 years later and we are still identifying our US Navy fallen sailors from Pearl Harbor. The last of the crew from the USS Oklahoma (BB-37) will be once again laid to rest. Fair winds and following seas shipmates. #service #navyv…https://t.co/6nDvz0EPax https://t.co/treIYldtQV
— Leach Strategic Partners ?? (@LeachPartners) December 5, 2021
In 2009, researchers began gathering DNA from relatives of the slain. In 2015, the Defense Department gave the final go-ahead to exhume the remains of the unknown dead.
But it was not easy. Shared ancestral lines meant that using mitochondrial DNA from the mothers of the victims would not be enough.
One DNA sequence matched 25 victims.
“So, 25 people all have that same mitochondrial DNA, and many of those were about the same height and age,” explained LeGarde. “So, the anthropologists were kind of stuck again. What do we do next?”
What they did was collect more DNA from the paternal line of the victims.
“If we didn’t have that DNA, we wouldn’t be able to do what we have done,” ” LeGarde explained.
But they did, allowing Jesus Garcia to be buried on Oct. 6 at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego after a burial Mass at Santa Sophia Catholic Church in Spring Valley, California.
Jesus Garcia was a native of Guam and just 21 years old when he was killed, serving aboard the USS Oklahoma in 1941 at the time of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. https://t.co/yQjjV4PpMc
— KHON2 News (@KHONnews) October 7, 2021
“I’m so glad they did this for us,” said Lilla Garcia, a sister-in-law of Jesus Garcia who attended his funeral. “We never expected that he was going to come [home].”
Gilbert Nadeau, 95, attended Garcia’s funeral and was the only World War II veteran in attendance.
“It’s amazing, after all these years, they finally identified him and brought him home,” Nadeau, who served on several other ships said. “It will never happen again if this country goes to hell.”
“After 80 years, their stories will finally be told,” said Eugene Hughes, who has been the Navy’s liaison with the families.
“They served with honor, and their families have sacrificed for so long.”
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