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Ghosts of Pearl Harbor: families of the dead demand DNA tests to identify children

William Edward Mann he enlisted in the Navy after graduating from high school in rural Washington state. He played guitar and learned to play the ukulele while stationed in Hawaii.

He has been left for dead since December 7, 1941, when Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor and caused a huge explosion that sank their battleship, the USS Arizona, launching the United States into World War II.

Now, his niece is one of the relatives of the crew members demanding that the US military take advantage of advances in DNA technology. to identify 85 Sailors and Marines from Arizona who were buried as unknown.

They say the army unearthed and identified wreckage from other Pearl Harbor battleships and you should do the same for your loved ones.

“These men matter and they served. They gave their lives for our country. And they deserve the same honor and respect as any other service member past, present and future, “said Teri Mann Whyatt.

The Arizona suffered more loss of life than any other ship in Pearl Harbor, with 1,177 dead. More than 900 sank with the ship and have remained there ever since.

As with the wreckage of other sunken ships, the Navy considers those aboard the Arizona to be at their final resting place. The families do not advocate for their removal and identification.

The question is what to do with the 85 strangers of Arizona buried in a graveyard in Hawaii. The question arose in February, when the director of the Accounting Agency for Prisoners of War and Missing in Combat, charged with finding and identifying the remains of American service members in past conflicts, was asked during a Facebook meeting Live, when the agency would dig them up.

Kelly McKeague said her agency had spoken with the Navy about the possibility of exhuming the unknown persons from the Arizona and transfer them to the ship without first identifying them. McKeague said it didn’t make “pragmatic sense” to identify them.

That outraged some families who feared the 85 wreckage would be placed on the sunken battleship without ever being identified again.

Since then, the agency has said that does not plan to transfer the remains from the cemetery to the ship. Rear Admiral Darius Banaji, the agency’s deputy director, said that was just a possibility that was informally discussed a few years ago.

Banaji also said that the agency does not plan dig up the remains, or try to identify them because it lacks sufficient documentation.

The samples

He claimed that the military has files on only half of the missing in Arizona. From them, only have medical records half, with age, height and other data. He only has the dental records of 130 men.

Some documents are believed to have been destroyed with the battleship. Others they may have been lost in a 1973 fire at a military personnel records office.

The military only has DNA samples from relatives of barely 1% of the crew of the Arizona missing.

McKeague told The Associated Press that what he said about the identifications being not pragmatic was referring to lack of documentation, not cost.

“We must apply our limited resources equitably to all families and do it in the most efficient way and as effective as possible, “he said in a statement.

The agency, which aims to find more than 80,000 missing service members from World War II onward, has successfully identified strangers from the USS Oklahoma, another battleship that capsized during the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

In 2015, the agency unearthed the remains of 388 sailors and marines of the Oklahoma Navy from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, the same cemetery where strangers from Arizona are buried.

He acted after the army drafted a new policy that allowed the exhumation of military groups unknown if it was expected to identify at least 60% of the group.

The agency had dental records and information on the age and height of the vast majority of strangers in Oklahoma. The military also had more than 80% family DNA samples.

The agency predicted that it would identify 80% of the remains of the Oklahoma, which were buried mixed in 61 coffins. Until this month, it had identified 344, that is, 88%, and plans to identify more.

Requests

A group of families led by Randy Stratton, whose father, Donald Stratton, suffered severe burns as a sailor in the Arizona but he lived to be 97 years old, has drafted a petition demanding that the agency identify the 85 strangers from Arizona.

He is committed to helping families submit DNA samples. He has also lobbied for the agency use genetic genealogy techniques such as those used by law enforcement agencies to resolve unsolved cases.

Stratton said that between 30 and 40 families of strangers from Arizona have joined your order.

From a scientific point of view, there’s not much to stop the military from identifying the remains of the Arizonasaid Michael Coble, associate director of the Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas.

“It is definitely going to be a huge task.. But I think the technology has evolved in such a way that this kind of work could be done, “said Coble, who was chief of research at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory from 2006 to 2010.

The laboratory, dating from 1991, has been using DNA for a long time to identify mortal remains for the army.

A more recent method uses so-called SNPs, that are unique to an individual – except for identical twins – and provide a kind of fingerprint. The laboratory has not been able to use this technique much because it did not obtain adequate SNP profiles from degraded debris. Last month, however, he completed a project to obtain those samples.

This technique would help the laboratory to distinguish between individualseven when it is only capable of extracting small fragments of DNA. SNPs are the same type of DNA sample that services like Ancestry.com and 23andMe use to help match people to long-lost relatives or learn about their tendency to certain diseases.

The data

The DNA profiles of this technique could be used, in theory, for the type of genetic genealogy work of research that Stratton defends.

Tim McMahon, the Defense Department’s chief of DNA operations, said investigators could they take samples find no matches in the laboratory’s internal database and upload them to publicly available private sector DNA databases to search for possible cousins ​​or other relatives.

Genealogists they could then study marriage licenses, birth records and other documents to find possible matches, which would then have to be confirmed with additional DNA tests.

The use of these databases raises privacy concernsas the relatives of the disappeared may not want their family’s genetic information to be shared. The military would have to develop policies to protect privacy, for example allowing researchers to upload an anonymous DNA profile of an unidentified soldier.

But first, the Prisoners of War and Missing in Action Accounting Agency (POW / MIA) you would have to decide that you actually want to identify to the strangers in Arizona.

For Stratton, it would be worth it. “Why wouldn’t I want to find out who these guys are?” Stratton said.

AP Agency

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