LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — In 2016, the Offutt Air Force lab, whose mission is to identify killed or missing soldiers from american conflicts set out on an ambitious operation.
They were given 388 remains, 13-thousand bones in total, of men on board the USS Oklahoma, which sank on the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
“On that fateful day, December 7, 1941, the ship and the crew became an unfortunate part of Navy history,” said Greg Slavonic, former Undersecretary of the Navy.
Thursday, the 50-plus American men who died on board the USS Oklahoma, were carried away onto a plane, heading to their final resting place, the spot where they died almost 80 years ago.
“The Oklahoma was first on the target list and by 8:08 it had capsized approximately 12 minutes after the torpedo hit,” said Slavonic.
“The attack on the ship, as Kelly mentioned, resulted in 429 sailors, the second greatest loss of life behind the Arizona."
While Thursday, the men who could not be identified were being honored, it was a day to celebrate the successes of a project that brought so many American families closure.
Three hundred and thirty-two Americans were identified by the project, including Jerry Clayton.
Jerry died on the USS Oklahoma. His nephew Robert Clayton and his family were told three years ago they found the remains of Jerry.
Jerry Clayton is now buried in Central City, Nebraska.
“There's that unknown, never knowing and then we heard that they had identified remains there was a big sigh of relief,” said Robert Clayton.
Sheri Spomer, Jerry’s great-niece was the one that brought the family to Lincoln Thursday.
“To keep his memory alive, my kids are 8 and 11 and I don’t want them to ever forget. I want the generations to keep remembering and so being here helps with that,” said Spomer.
Monsignor James Gilg was told recently that his father’s cousin Louis Tulash had been identified by the lab.
“We didn’t know a lot about him, just the fact that he was on the Oklahoma was killed very quickly in World War II,” said Gilg.
Gilg was with his family today and next month plans a family reunion in Atkinson, Nebraska, where Louis can be properly buried and the family can get final closure.
“It’s an honor to be alive and there and represent the ancestors who grieved and waited and given this great opportunity to actually place him in the earth, in the land that he grew up and was raised and loved,” said Gilg.
While the USS Oklahoma project is at its end, Robert Clayton is happy the lab will keep striving to identify Americans from other wars, giving other families the closure his family was afforded.
“The relief we felt these families don’t know yet will get an opportunity to have that closure moment,” said Clayton.
The burial ceremony for the unknown soldiers of the USS Oklahoma will take place at Pearl Harbor, the 80th anniversary of the infamous day.