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Laboratory at Offutt works to identify remains of servicemen who died in WWII

Posted at 6:45 PM, Oct 17, 2019

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Back on December 7th, 1941, the USS Oklahoma sank after the attacks at Pearl Harbor. With it, hundreds of servicemen died. Now, nearly 80 years later, one laboratory in the Metro is working to help identify the remains.

"Their records were actually were on the ship and so when the ship sank we lost a lot of their records," said Carrie LeGarde, Project Lead for the U.S.S. Oklahoma ID Project at Offutt. That posed an issue in trying to ID the more than 400 men who died on that ship.

The lab in Omaha was given the remains and has since sampled a bunch of the bones. "For the Oklahoma project we sampled almost 5,000 bones for DNA and so we're actually still waiting for some of those samples to come back," said LeGarde.

The work that's being done is still a surprise to some in Omaha. It's a long process of DNA testing or the bones are attempted to be put back together. "A lot of times that's looking at the left and the right arm, do these bones look like they belong to the same person and that will feed into our DNA sampling strategy," said LeGarde.

She says the hard work is all worth it once the family finds out their loved one was identified. That is a major part of the motivation behind their work. "Until they are home and no one is forgotten no one is left behind and that's our driving force of what were doing," said LeGarde.

Since the project started more than 250 men have been identified. The lab is also working on several other projects, including working with Europe in helping ID remains of solders buried as unknowns in that area.