Agencies Work to Bring Closure to Pearl Harbor Sailors, Marines

Dec 7, 2015

Decades after Japanese bombs rained down on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government is still working to bury those killed in the attacks — and provide closure for those who survived. 

Monday, the 74th anniversary of the attack, divers with the National Parks Service planned to bury Joeseph K. Langdell in the sunken remains of the USS Arizona. The ensign, who worked on the ship, happened to be off it the day it sunk. When he died at 100, Langdell left instructions that he be reunited with his shipmates at the bottom of the sea. 

"For me it's a way to ensure that these sailors get to see their wish of being buried with their shipmates — making the connection that they've missed for, in this case, the past seventy-four years," said Scott Pawlowsk, a diver with the National Parks Service, which runs the underwater monument where remains of the ship sit. 

Meanwhile, another U.S. agency is still working to properly identify all those who were killed in the attacks. On the USS Arizona, 1,177 were killed. Another 429 were killed when the battleship USS Oklahoma was torpedoed and sank in 50 feet of water.

But it wasn’t until 1943 — two years after it sank — that the Oklahoma was righted and salvaged, and their remains could be recovered.

Due to heavy decomposition, 388 of the dead couldn’t be identified. Their bones were commingled and buried in Oahu.

But this year, those remains were disinterred by the Defense Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Accounting Agency or DPAA.  

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Kristen Duus said the technology to identify those remains didn’t exist until now — but new procedures gave the agency the confidence that it can identify a significant portion of them.

"Within 5 years we’ll have 80 percent of those remains identified," Duus said. 

The remaining 20 percent will be tough to identify because the DPAA can’t find surviving family members for DNA comparisons, she said. 

"Our mission is to bring back all of those that are missing and lost be able to return them to their families so their families can have closure," said Staff Sergeant Duus.

Closure will finally come for Langdell, the survivor of the attack, as Pawlowski and his divers descend about 25 feet to the Number 4 Gun Turret on the USS Arizona. 

"After the urn makes it down to the divers, we snap a salute to the family and then in a formation swim out," he said.

The divers submerge simultaneously. 

"The urn is the last thing that the family sees," Pawklowski said. 

Of the seven remaining survivors of the Arizona sinking, two have already asked to be buried with their ship.