The Department of Defense ordered Tuesday the posthumous examination of nearly 400 sailors and Marines assigned to the USS Oklahoma who died during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941. The unprecedented exhumation will take place to confirm identities and for analysis, the department announced in a press release. The remains are expected to be sent to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) laboratory in Hawaii, according to Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, who approved the disinterment, according to News 9 in Oklahoma.

"The secretary of defense and I will work tirelessly to ensure your loved ones' remains will be recovered, identified and returned to you as expeditiously as possible, and we will do so with dignity, respect and care," Work said. "While not all families will receive an individual identification, we will strive to provide resolution to as many families as possible."

The Navy Casualty Office has already begun to notify relatives of the unknown servicemen, who are currently buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, and they have reacted with shock. "I can hardly talk," said Bob Valley, 82, whose brother, Lowell, was a fireman in the USS Oklahoma’s boiler room before he was presumably trapped inside after the ship was hit by Japanese torpedoes, according to the Star Advertiser of Honolulu.


Officials are planning to use family DNA samples to confirm the identities of the remains, said acting DPAA director Rear Adm. Mike Franken. “The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is prepared to begin this solemn undertaking in concert with ongoing worldwide recovery missions," he said. "Personally, I am most privileged to be part of this honorable mission, and I very much appreciate the efforts of many people who saw this revised disinterment policy come to fruition."

When the USS Oklahoma sank on Dec. 7, 1941, 429 sailors and Marines were killed. Only 35 crew members have been positively identified.