HARTFORD—At the urging of a bipartisan group of 15 United States Senators led by U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), the Department of Defense will conduct a review of the issue of accounting for the bodies of 22 men who lost their lives aboard the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The Senators asked the Defense Department for its assistance in exhuming the sailors’ bodies so that they could either be brought home for burial in their community, or be buried in a marked grave in Hawaii.
“I’m glad that the Pentagon has agreed to begin this process—it’s a big step toward bringing some comfort and closure to the family members of these sailors,” said Murphy. “For nearly 70 years, these families never knew the final resting place of their loved ones. The brave men who died protecting our great nation at Pearl Harbor deserve a final resting place of their families’ choosing.”
“As part of our nation’s commitment to never forget those who were lost in battle, we have a solemn responsibility to return the remains of fallen service members to their families,” Ayotte said. “I’m pleased that the Defense Department is moving forward and I’m hopeful that the remains of these brave heroes will be identified so that their families may decide their final resting place.”
All 22 men were killed, along with 408 other sailors, when the U.S.S. Oklahoma was torpedoed during the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1943, when the Oklahoma was salvaged and raised, the remains of the sailors classified as “unknown” were buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. For nearly 70 years, the family members of these men never knew the final resting place of their loved ones.
The response letter from the Department of Defense is below:
The Honorable Christopher S. Murphy
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Murphy:
Thank you for your March 6, 2014, letter requesting the disinterment of remains in caskets believed to contain the remains of 22 service members who were killed while serving on USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. I have been asked to respond on behalf of Secretary Hagel.
I discussed this matter with Secretary Hagel. As part of the recently announced reconstructing of the personnel accounting community, he directed that I conduct a review of the issue of accounting for service members killed while serving on the USS Oklahoma. Based on this review, I will make recommendations on how to proceed on the issue of further disinterment of the unknowns from USS Oklahoma. I will provide you an update on this issue after the review is complete.
Accounting for these unknown personnel is important to the Department, and I understand the families’ interests in finding out the fate of their missing loved ones. I greatly appreciate your strong support for our service members and their families.
Michael D. Lumpkin
Assistant Secretary of Defense
Full text of the Senators’ original letter to the Department of Defense can be viewed here: http://www.murphy.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/senators-ask-pentagon-to-help-identify-bring-home-remains-of-sailors-killed-at-pearl-harbor-for-burial