Exactly 80 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the effort to identify hundreds of sailors killed aboard the USS Oklahoma that fateful day has drawn to an emotional close.
The U.S. Navy and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency on Tuesday held a reinterment ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, laying to rest the final 33 sailors on the USS Oklahoma after hundreds of others were identified in a years-long project that began decades after the “date which will live in infamy.”
On Dec. 7, 1941, 429 men died aboard the USS Oklahoma, most of them trapped below decks when the ship was torpedoed and capsized.
It would be months before the Oklahoma was righted, and when the remains of the crew members were recovered, most were unidentified and buried in common graves.
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But in 2015, the Department of Defense announced a concerted effort to use modern forensics to identify those sailors and bring them home.
When George Sternisha of Crest Hill got the call that the remains of his uncle Michael Galajdik had been positively identified, he said it was a day his mother could only dream of, calling it her “wish come true.”
Galajdik, who was 25 at the time of his death, was laid to rest with full military honors at the Abraham Lincoln Cemetery in Will County in 2017 – a hero’s funeral more than 70 years after he left home to serve his country.
Identifications like Galajdik’s have taken place hundreds of times since the USS Oklahoma project began.
Of the remains of 388 sailors disinterred in 2015, 355 have since been individually identified, as scientists inventoried and catalogued nearly 13,000 bones, sampling almost 5,000 for DNA testing. The final 33 sailors who were not individually identified via DNA testing were all accounted for in October, designated as group remains and laid to rest Tuesday, according to the DPAA.
At a news conference at Pearl Harbor Monday announcing the project’s conclusion, officials said their work fulfills a promise given to all who serve their nation in war.
“Their country will do nothing, and stop at nothing, to bring them home,” one DPAA official said.
On Tuesday, the remains of the final 33 crew members from the USS Oklahoma were reinterred, their names inscribed in the cemetery’s Courts of the Missing as a lasting memorial to their service.
More than 2,400 American service members and civilians died in the attack on Pearl Harbor, with one official at Tuesday's ceremony describing it as: "They gifted us their tomorrows, for our today."