July 28, 2015 / 5:00 AM / 5 years ago

U.S. military exhumes remains of unidentified victims of Pearl Harbor attack

(Reuters) - The remains of unidentified members of the U.S. military killed in the sinking of the USS Oklahoma during Japan’s World War Two attack on Pearl Harbor were exhumed in Hawaii on Monday in a bid to identify them, the Department of Defense said.

Remains of World War Two service members from the USS Oklahoma are disinterred so they can be identified during a Dignified Transfer ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii July 27, 2015. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry

Five caskets draped in U.S. flags containing the remains of sailors and Marines who died in the Dec., 7, 1941 attack were transferred from a cemetery to a laboratory where they will be analyzed with modern forensic methods, including DNA testing.

The remains were among those of the 388 service members who died in the attack and were buried as individuals who were unknown. The Pentagon wants to identify all of them in coming years.

The new effort aims to disinter 61 caskets at 45 gravesites.

“Recent advances in forensic science and technology, as well as family member assistance in providing genealogical information, have now made it possible to make individual identifications for many servicemembers long buried in USS Oklahoma graves marked ‘unknown,’” the Defense Department said in a statement.

The Marines and sailors who are identified will be returned to their families for burial with full military honors, the Pentagon has said.

There has been a series of identification efforts in the decades since the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, which took 2,403 lives and drew the United States into World War Two.

The battleship Oklahoma sank when it was hit by torpedoes during the assault, the Pentagon said. A total of 429 sailors and Marines were killed.

In the years immediately after, 35 crew members were identified and buried. During salvage operations from 1942 to 1944, the remaining service members’ remains were removed from the ship and interred as “unknowns” in cemeteries in Hawaii.

In 1947, remains in those cemeteries were disinterred, but requests to try and identify them using dental records were not approved.

By 1950, all unidentified remains from the USS Oklahoma were reinterred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, in Hawaii, the department said.

The Defense Department laboratory in Hawaii disinterred one casket in 2003 and was able to identify five servicemen based on historical evidence provided by a Pearl Harbor survivor.

Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere in Los Angeles; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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