On Jan. 3, 2023, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that federal researchers had identified the remains of Gunner's Mate Third Class Herman Schmidt nearly two years earlier. Schmidt, 28, died on board the battleship Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when his warship was attacked by Japanese forces on Dec. 7, 1941. Coffee or Die Magazine composite.
A sailor killed on board the battleship Oklahoma during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor 81 years ago has been identified.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Tuesday, Jan. 3, that the remains of Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Herman Schmidt of Sheridan, Wyoming, were identified nearly two years ago by federal investigators using dental, bone, and genetic analysis to pinpoint his remains.
Schmidt previously was interred in one of 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific — better known as the Punchbowl — in Honolulu for decades.
Officials said Schmidt will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, but no date has been scheduled for his ceremony.
Rescue teams at work on the capsized hull of the battleship Oklahoma (BB-37), seeking crew members trapped inside, on Dec. 7, 1941. The starboard bilge keel is visible at the top of the upturned hull. Officers' Motor Boats from Oklahoma and the cargo ship Argonne (AG-31) are in the foreground. Battleship Maryland (BB-46) is in the background. US Navy photo, now in the National Archives.
Schmidt was a 28-year-old petty officer on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese aircraft attacked his warship, which was moored at Ford Island. After suffering multiple torpedo strikes, Oklahoma capsized, taking 429 shipmates with it, including Schmidt.
For nearly three years, sailors continued to recover the remains of the dead, burying them in the Halawa Catholic Cemetery and Nuʻuanu Memorial Park on Oahu.
In 1947, workers from the American Graves Registration Service disinterred the men from the two graveyards and brought their remains to the Central Identification Laboratory at the US Army’s Schofield Barracks.
But lab researchers only confirmed the identities of 35 crew members from the battleship. The rest were intermingled in the Punchbowl plots, sailors known only as the “USS Oklahoma Unknowns.”
Salvage operations raised the battlship Oklahoma (BB-37), sunk during the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941. This view shows the aft of the ship at the 34 degrees position. A gift of Capt. F.H. Whitaker, the photo is now archived at US Naval History and Heritage Command.
In 2015, however, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency ordered the bodies exhumed again, this time trusting that genetic analysis using DNA samples from the service members' relatives could crack the case of the missing men.
Schmidt’s name remains on the one of the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl. But his name soon will be joined by a rosette, indicating that his body has been identified.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency counts more than 81,500 Americans who remain missing in action from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, various Cold War incidents, and combat in the Persian Gulf region, but three out of every four cases is tied to the Indo-Pacific theater of operations.
More than 41,000 of the missing service members were lost at sea, making the recovery of their bodies very difficult.
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Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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