After graduating from highschool in rural Washington, William Edward Mann joined the Navy. He was a guitarist and learned the ukulele in Hawaii.
Since Dec. 7, 1941 when Japanese planes bombarded Pearl Harbor, they have been believed to be dead. A massive explosion sank his battleship USS Arizona and launched the U.S into World War II.
His niece is now among a group of crew members who demand that the U.S. military use advances in DNA technology to identify 85 Marines and sailors from Arizona who were buried unidentified. They claim that the military has identified remains from other Pearl Harbor battleships, and they should do the same for their loved one.
These men are important and they served. They sacrificed their lives to serve our country. They deserve the same respect and honor as all other service members past, present, and future,” Teri MannWhyatt stated.
With 1,177 deaths, the Arizona was responsible for more death than any other Pearl Harbor ship. More than 900 people died on the ship, and they have been buried there ever since.
The Navy considers the remains of the Arizona, just like those found on sunken ships. They are not calling for their removal and identification.
It is a question of what to do about the 85 unknown Arizonans who were buried in a Hawaii cemetery. The issue was raised in February by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency director, who is charged with identifying and finding the remains of U.S. military personnel from past conflicts.
Kelly McKeague stated that his agency had discussed with the Navy exhuming the unknowns from Arizona and moving them to the vessel without identifying them. McKeague stated that it was not practical to identify them.
Some families were outraged by this and feared that the 85 remains would be placed on a sunken battleship without being identified.
Since then, the agency has stated that it does not plan to transport the remains of the cemetery onto the ship. Rear Adm. Darius Banaji was the agency’s deputy chief and said that it was a possibility that had been discussed informally over a few years.
Banaji said that the agency does not plan to disinter remains or attempt to identify them, as it lacks enough documentation.
He said that only half of the missing people from Arizona are in the military’s files. It has only half of the medical records, which include information such as age, height, and other details. Only 130 men have access to their dental records. Some documents may have been lost with the battleship. Some documents may have been destroyed with the battleship.
The military has only DNA samples from the relatives of 1% of missing Arizona crew members.
McKeague stated to The Associated Press, that he meant what he said about identifications being not pragmatic by referring to the absence of documentation and not the cost.
He stated that “we must use our limited resources in an equitable way for all families, and to do this as efficiently and effective as possible.”
The agency, which seeks to locate more than 80,000 missing service members from World War II, has identified unknowns from USS Oklahoma, another battleship that was lost during the Pearl Harbor bombing.
The agency found the remains of 388 Oklahoma sailors, Marines, and Marines in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in 2015. This is the same graveyard that buried the Arizona unknowns.
After the military had drafted a policy that allowed the disinterment groups of unknown servicemen, if the military expected to identify at minimum 60% of the group.
For the vast majority of Oklahomans, the agency had access to dental records, height and age information. For more than 80%, the military had DNA samples from family members.
According to the agency, it was able to identify 80% of Oklahoma’s remains. They were buried in 61 caskets. It has so far identified 344 of the Oklahoma remains, which is 88%, and expects to name more.
Randy Stratton is the leader of a group of families that has drafted a petition asking the agency to identify the 85 Arizona unidentifieds. His father, Donald Stratton suffered severe burns while sailoring on the Arizona. He died at 97.
He has vowed that he will help families submit DNA samples. He has also pushed for the agency’s use of genetic genealogy techniques, similar to those used by law enforcement in cold cases.
Stratton stated that about 30-40 families from Arizona have been joined by him.
According to Michael Coble (associate director of the Center for Human Identification, University of North Texas), there’s nothing scientific that can stop the military from identifying Arizona’s remains.
It’s going to be a massive undertaking. However, I believe the technology has advanced that this type of work can be done,” Coble said. He was the chief of research at Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory between 2006 and 2010.
Since 1991, the lab has used DNA to identify military remains.
SNPs are a newer method that is unique to each individual, except for identical twins. They can also be used as a type of fingerprint. This technique has not been used by the lab as it was unable to extract sufficient SNP profiles from decayed remains. However, the lab completed a project last month to obtain those samples.
Even though it can only extract small fragments of DNA, this technique could help distinguish individuals. SNPs are the same type DNA sample that Ancestry.com or 23andMe use for matching people with long-lost relatives and learning their propensity to certain diseases.
The DNA profiles derived from this technique could theoretically serve as a basis for the type of investigational genetic genealogy work that Stratton supports.
Tim McMahon is the head of DNA operations at the Defense Department. He said that researchers could upload DNA samples to private databases, which are publicly accessible, to search for possible cousins and other relatives. To find potential matches, genealogists could examine marriage licenses, birth records, and other documents. These would need to be confirmed by additional DNA tests.
Privacy concerns arise when such databases are used. Some relatives of the missing might not wish their family’s genetic information to be shared. The military should develop privacy policies, such as allowing researchers to upload anonymous DNA profiles of unidentified servicemen.
First, however, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency will have to decide if it wants to identify the unknowns from Arizona.
It would be worthwhile for Stratton.
“Why wouldn’t you want to discover who these guys were?” Stratton stated.